Baristas forced Starbucks to cut hours, now they’re upset

Jul 7, 2016, 5:31 AM | Updated: 7:47 am
Starbucks' headquarters is in Seattle, Wash. (AP)

More than 12,000 people signed on to a symbolic online petition calling out Starbucks for cutting the hours of baristas. It was a move that these very workers caused.

A California barista named Jaime Prater started the petition and his main complaint is that hours are being cut, in essence, to preserve profitability for Starbucks. If true, this shouldn’t be a shock. This was one of the biggest warnings from people questioning the logic of making low-skilled workers more costly to businesses.

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Prater admits that the job of a barista “…isn’t a hard one.” He says it can be demanding, but “…it’s easy work.” Yet, why do people with such easy jobs have such high demands in relation to the value of the job? If your job can be done by a machine — and yes, much of what a barista does can be replaced by a machine — what incentive does a business have to continue to incur the increased costs of your labor?

If you don’t bring in enough profits to justify $15 an hour, your hours will either be cut or you’ll be given more responsibility to justify the wage increase. If you don’t bring in enough profits to cover the cost of mandated health insurance, why wouldn’t the business cut hours so you’re not eligible for the free health care? If you can get two part-time workers at the same cost as one full-time worker, why wouldn’t a business go with two?

This debate is often purposefully confused by labor activists trying to unionize workers. They don’t argue facts; they argue emotions because you can’t really argue with emotions. You feel angry? OK, well, I can’t really argue that you don’t feel angry. Your feelings are yours. But labor activists pretend that this debate is about your personal worth and value; not your position’s worth and value to the business. It’s the same disingenuous strategy Donald Trump uses to get people on his side: don’t focus on fact, play to emotions.

But here’s a simple fact: for-profit businesses are meant to bring in — wait for it — a profit. Gasp! I know, right? Shocking. They’re not meant to validate your feelings of self-worth. They’re there to turn a profit, reinvest in the product or service, and make an even bigger profit. Without that profit, they go out of business (kind of like how labor unions can’t exist without the union dues they collect from workers).

You can complain that this exploits the worker, but that’s a rather myopic argument. It’s a contractual relationship where you also exploit the employer for valuable skills that you leverage into a higher paying job within the company (and if you can’t advance there, you go across the street and you bring to them the skills you earned from the previous employer). If you don’t like it, you can always quit.

Admittedly, this is not a black-and-white issue. Smart business people will treat workers well. Smart business people will offer benefits to entice the best people available to come work for them. Smart business people might even be better stewards of the environment or the community they live in. This not only satisfies employees but it can build a wider customer base.

But your position still has to be worth that kind of investment (it’s why baristas and brain surgeons have such drastic differences in pay and benefits). And if you’re a low-skilled worker, I think you’d be better suited trying to acquire more skills to get into a position that is of better value to the company.

And, having worked minimum wage jobs before, I understand the difficulties. But my situation didn’t change the value of the positions I held at the time. Anyone could have done my job. Instead of demanding more money and hours that were convenient for my schedule, I took on as many shifts as possible (not complaining of late night shifts followed by early morning ones), worked holidays, and learned more and more skills. I leveraged those skills to work my way up in the organization. And when I reached as high as I could, I went someplace that valued my work and saw more of a future for me.
This isn’t unfair. This is life. This is being rewarded for hard work and despite what some activists will tell you, it’s the norm for workers.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Baristas forced Starbucks to cut hours, now they’re upset