Dori: A brief economics lesson for Starbucks unionizers

Dec 15, 2021, 12:54 PM
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union-election watch party on Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

Dori Monson Show listeners are always so good about sending us great leads. One listener brought this story to my attention: Last week, a coffee shop in Buffalo, New York, became the first Starbucks in the nation to unionize. In fact, some of these baristas were on with Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio.

They said: “We care about our jobs and our co-workers and want a more sustainable job for those who want to make this a career. … It should be able to be a career.”

Believe me, I know some baristas who are very good at their job. They offer friendly customer service and brew great beverages. When they’re good, they definitely earn their tips. Some entrepreneurial ones even start their own successful coffee business.

But should being a barista at Starbucks pay enough to raise a family? Buy a house? Get all the things you like? Should being a barista be that kind of a career just because someone wants it to be?

Here’s how the job market works: You have a job as long as you deliver to your employer more than your employer is paying you. If you are working a job that only generates $40,000 worth of revenue benefit to your employer, and they are paying you $50,000, it doesn’t make economic sense to the employer.

Do you know why professional athletes get paid so much? Why brain surgeons get paid a lot? Because very few people in the United States of America can do what they do.

Being a barista or working in fast food does not require a difficult set of skills. They are skills teenagers and entry-level workers can be taught for their first jobs.

Starbucks acknowledges this, as my producer Nicole reminds me. That’s why they pay for their employees to go to college – to move on from their barista jobs.

Just wishing it so does not make being a barista a career. It does not necessarily make it economically viable — unless your skills are somewhat rare, or unless you are delivering more return for your employer than what your employer is paying you.

There is no sympathy in business.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Dori: A brief economics lesson for Starbucks unionizers