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Originally published August 14, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Page modified August 14, 2014 at 8:31 PM

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Starbucks vows to change unpredictable barista work schedules

Starbucks is changing its scheduling policies to give baristas more “stability and consistency,” following a New York Times report about the havoc created in a young mother’s life by having to work unpredictable shifts determined by the company’s scheduling software.


Seattle Times business reporter

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Starbucks is changing its scheduling policies to give baristas more “stability and consistency” after a New York Times report about the havoc created in a young mother’s life by having to work unpredictable shifts determined by the company’s scheduling software.

In an email to employees Thursday morning, senior executive Cliff Burrows wrote that Starbucks has “a responsibility to support” employees who are juggling work at the world’s largest coffee chain with their personal lives.

The Times’ report chronicled the travails of Jannette Navarro, a 22-year-old single mother who scrambled every week to balance her family duties, her studies and wildly changing hours at her job. It said Navarro “rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek.”

Burrows wrote in the email that he was “troubled” to read about Navarro’s struggles.

“Taking care of our partners is a responsibility I take very personally,” Burrows wrote.

So now the company will upgrade its scheduling software to enable managers to make work shifts more consistent, according to Burrows. Employees will never be required to work back-to-back closing and opening shifts, and “district managers must help store managers problem-solve issues specific to individual stores to make this happen.”

Schedules will be posted a week in advance; “no exceptions,” Clifford wrote.

Moreover, the company will help those employees who are commuting an hour or more to transfer “as quickly as possible” to stores closer to their home.

Starbucks employs more than 130,000 in its U.S. operations. Spokesman Zack Hutson said a majority of employees are part-timers working between 20 and 30 hours a week, as many are also students.

Starbucks prides itself on providing benefits that are rare in the services industry, such as stock options, health care and retirement plans for those working more than 20 hours a week. The company recently announced a deal with Arizona State University to subsidize an online college degree for its U.S. baristas.

Nevertheless, the controversy about scheduling underscores the tensions between running a business “through the lens of humanity,” as the company calls its workplace practices, and the need to keep its profit-growth momentum through expansion and efficiency.

An assistant supervisor at one Starbucks near downtown Seattle said that the scheduling works most of the time at her store. When problems arise, employees “have to take the initiative” to make it work in their favor by coordinating with their colleagues. She also said that experienced employees generally enjoyed more flexibility than newbies.

She said it was more of a scramble at a bigger store she worked in previously, where schedules for the week starting Monday were posted the preceding Thursday.

The Starbucks Workers Union, an offshoot of the Industrial Workers of the World that seeks to organize baristas, on Tuesday issued a report criticizing its labor practices. Workers “struggle with low wages” that are often less than $9 an hour and “erratic scheduling and inadequate hours, with many workers assigned only 20-30 hours a week,” the report said.

Union spokeswoman Sarah Madden said that “just-in-time” scheduling practices inhibit workers from scheduling doctor appointments, setting up child care, taking classes and planning for the future.

“We would like more advance notice for our schedules and for hours and scheduling requests to be based off seniority,” she said.

Hutson, the Starbucks spokesman, said employees’ working hours and availability are intended to be up to them. If they want fixed schedules, they should be able to get them from week to week.

The scheduling software used by the company creates a draft of the schedule based on the availability and preferences of all the employees in a store, and managers have the power to change it to accommodate employees.

Burrows’ message aimed to set the expectation that the harried life of the barista portrayed by The New York Times “is not consistent with who we are as a company and how we want to schedule,” Hutson said.

“If partners are having similar experiences we want them to talk to their managers because we want to know about them and we want to fix them,” Hutson said.

The scheduling issue comes in the midst of a growing debate about the quality of the bottom tier of U.S. jobs and the strain they create among low-income families. Last month, a South Carolina fast-food worker was arrested for leaving her daughter to play alone in a park while she went to work.

Last-minute scheduling, used by Starbucks and other retailers to allocate part-time employees with utmost efficiency, adds a new dimension to these workers’ woes.

Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade organization representing retailers, says that recent reports on scheduling software “have only shown part of the story.”

“Employees can often choose between available and flexible scheduling in order to meet family, school and other nonwork priorities,” he said in a statement.

“Where scheduling problems arise, retail employees and their partners find solutions together, much as they always have,” Trautwein said, adding that flexibility in fact helps lure people to the retail industry.

Ángel González: 206-464-2250 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gonzalezseattle



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