Starbucks alliance boost fueled by bartender burnout from mobile orders

FILE PHOTO: Starbucks Workers United Members in Buffalo, New York
FILE PHOTO: Starbucks workers United members meet at their offices in Buffalo, New York, U.S., December 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario/File Photo

December 9, 2021

By Hilary Russ and Julia Love

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Starbucks Corp bartenders conducting a union campaign in Buffalo, New York, said they are organizing in part to have more say in the workload caused by applications. mobile app the company created, which left them struggling to keep up with orders for $6 Frappuccinos and other custom coffee drinks.

On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board will count votes from employees at three stores in the area. The shift workers and supervisors there are looking to join the Worker Company, a branch of the Service Employees International Union. They need a majority of votes per store to win at that location.

The pandemic has created a spike in mobile orders at Starbucks and other restaurant chains. Baristas in Buffalo and elsewhere complain they can’t limit the number of mobile orders per hour, leading to spikes they struggle to fulfill.

Individual stores can temporarily turn off mobile ordering entirely for their locations, but that requires approval from the manager, the confirming company, and then the customer can You can order from other nearby locations.

Baristas says that adds an extra burden to other stores, but the company says such a change won’t necessarily lead to overflows in other stores.

The union election involved about 100 workers, a tiny fraction of the roughly 220,000 employees at Seattle-based Starbucks cafes in the United States. However, a victory in Buffalo could turn explosive as bartenders also complain about thin staffing and less control over workplace conditions enjoying more power in a tight labor market. .

Since Operation Buffalo was announced in August, three other nearby locations and one store as far away as Arizona have sought to follow the lead of the campaign.

“We respect the process that is underway and regardless of any outcome in these elections, we will continue to be true to our Mission and Values,” said Starbucks CEO. Kevin Johnson told employees in a letter on Tuesday.

Employees who spoke to Reuters said they wanted higher wages, seniority pay and better staffing levels. But burnout with mobile orders and frustration with other tech systems were key drivers of the campaign, interviews with five workers showed.

“Technology is made for the customer, not the employee,” said Casey Moore, a bartender at one of the Starbucks locations who was counting votes. “Without the union, we can’t tell how technology could work for us, too.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company is constantly updating its app based on employee and customer feedback.


Moore and other employees interviewed by Reuters said they were not opposed to the technology in principle, but wanted more say in how it was developed and deployed in stores.

When Starbucks rolled out seasonal holiday drinks and free mugs in November, the mobile ordering system was so overwhelmed with orders at a Buffalo-area store that employees had to leave up to 40 minutes and throw away at least 30 drinks abandoned by customers. James Skretta, a bartender there.

The chain has about 20 stores in and around Buffalo. It launched its app in 2009 but added new ways to pay and earn points in 2020 as rewards for membership skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The mobile ordering app has “completely changed what it means to be a bartender,” said Danka Dragic, a shift supervisor at a Buffalo-area store.

Starbucks bartenders aren’t the only workers to have worked with the store’s high-tech. Five workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc location in Austin, Texas, were laid off after being overwhelmed with mobile orders, media reports.

Walmart Inc in June rolled out an app that lets employees complete a variety of tasks from their phones, but labor advocates warn that the technology could open the door to limits. stricter productivity quotas.

A Walmart spokesperson said the app eases aspects of work including scheduling, tracking and communicating for employees.

“Workers across industries are challenging the escalation of punitive technology in the workplace,” said Bianca Agustin, director of corporate accountability at the nonprofit United for Respect.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has fought to ensure sensors and other technology installed in United Parcel Service Inc trucks are not used to punish motorists, and hotel association UNITE HERE has promoted the technology. to enhance worker protection, including safety buttons for hotel cleaners.

Starbucks baristas also appreciate their customer service performance management program — especially since they’re under pressure from other technology that tracks how fast their orders are processed. surname.

“It’s as if you’re making a drink under the pressure of trying to release a ticking time bomb,” says Skretta.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York and Julia Love in San Francisco; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Matthew Lewis) Starbucks alliance boost fueled by bartender burnout from mobile orders

Bobby Allyn

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