I am a Starbucks barista who doesn’t qualify for all the wonderful benefits you keep hearing about. We want the ‘different kind of company’ that Howard Schultz promised but failed to deliver

March 30, 2023, 11:30 AM UTC
Jasmine Leli is a Buffalo Starbucks barista and member of Starbucks Workers United.
Courtesy of Jasmine Leli

I started working at Starbucks in December of 2021, one week after my store had its union election. I had no idea what I was walking into. I had seen the headlines about the Genesee Street and Elmwood Ave stores winning their union elections, the first Starbucks stores in the country to do so, but I had never heard of a union before–and I was intrigued to learn more about this historic victory.

While I was excited to work at a place that I had frequented as a customer, my start with Starbucks was rocky. I was trained for only a few days and I felt completely unprepared to start work as a barista. This was the first red flag.

While my training was subpar, my co-workers weren’t. One shift I turned to my shift supervisor, Lexi, and asked, “what’s up with all this union stuff?” She immediately gave me all the tools I needed to immerse myself fully in the campaign. She gave me a union pin and reading materials about the union. I started wearing the pin right away.

Things were going great at first and my store was incredibly busy. Then January hit and the hour cuts started out of nowhere. I went from working 25 hours to 17 or 18 hours a week and some of my co-workers were only getting five to 10 hours. To qualify for benefits at Starbucks, baristas have to work at least 20 hours a week.

When I asked my manager why my hours were cut so drastically, I was told that January is a slow month and that the hours would increase again in a few weeks. If I needed additional hours I could pick up shifts at other stores. I was brand new. I barely had the training to work as a barista and then I was supposed to work at other stores to get hours? I felt completely hopeless. My finances and the future of my benefits were in the company’s hands. I could have given them open availability to work but then only get scheduled for a fraction of that time.

My husband works a grueling labor-intensive job. Health insurance at his company for the two of us would cost us over $1,900 a month, versus $580 through Starbucks. So not only was I struggling to get hours, but the substantial cost of the medical insurance took more than half of my paycheck at Starbucks each week. With the cost of insurance so high, even with the company’s contribution, I was basically working for nothing. How can a company claim to be progressive and tout these wonderful benefits while also controlling whether you get to keep them while on the job? Starbucks claims their benefits packages are what make them “a different kind of company” that values workers. The benefits are great on paper, but often don’t exist in reality due to inconsistent scheduling.

It was an incredibly hard time watching my co-workers who I know and love and work with every day contemplating leaving the company or having to get a second job because they couldn’t pay their bills. Getting a second job also means my co-workers would have to change their availability, which also would put them in danger of not getting hours. It’s a vicious cycle, with Starbucks wanting all our availability but barely scheduling us for any of it.

This controlling relationship is completely one-sided. With a union, we reclaim power in this dynamic. We reclaim being able to feed our families. We reclaim our dignity in the back-breaking labor we do for Starbucks every day to make the company billions of dollars in revenue.

I joined this movement to be a part of history. I love working at Starbucks. I know my customers’ faces, their orders, and a little bit about their life. I love being the first interaction they have before going to work. These incredible connections I have every morning are my favorite part of the job.

This union gives us hope. I don’t believe that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz knows what it’s like to make impossible decisions about which utility he can live without until he gets paid again, or which family member or friend he can borrow money from to feed his family. If he knew how any of this felt, he would never set us up to be perpetually broken–mentally and physically.

Our new CEO Laxman Narasimhan has an opportunity to chart a different course, to truly make Starbucks the “different kind of company” that Schultz failed to produce. The transition in the executive suite is a chance for Starbucks to stop its unprecedented campaign of union-busting and instead partner with us, its so-called “partners”, and our union to build a company that lives up to its stated progressive values.

Jasmine Leli is a Buffalo Starbucks barista and member of Starbucks Workers United.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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