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Starbucks and Its Workers


Starbucks, like most companies, creates all sorts of arrangements to make sure that it doesn’t have too much, or any, responsibility for its workers. One of which is a pretty normal one–they contract out to run their airport operations. Among the many problems with this is the massive discrimination of transgender workers on the job or Latino workers who are in Starbucks uniforms, even if not technically Starbucks employees.

One transgender barista said his supervisors kept writing “Jessica” instead of Jay on his work schedule.

They stared at his stubble and frowned at his deepening voice. A manager even laughed when he told her to stop referring to him as “she,” said the barista, Jay Kelly, who works at a Starbucks at Orlando International Airport in Florida.

“It’s like a bullet to my heart,” he said. “They look at me like I’m disgusting or like I’m not human or a type of animal that doesn’t belong in that airport.”

Mr. Kelly, 25, is one of some 300 employees who responded to a union survey about conditions working for HMSHost, a travel food service company that has long operated Starbucks and other coffee shops in airports nationwide. His allegations and others’ — including that dozens of employees were told to speak English — were made in a report the union released amid tense negotiations with HMSHost, and as labor groups reach out to marginalized people to increase their membership.

HMSHost denied any discrimination and accused the union, UNITE HERE, of spreading false information to gain leverage at the bargaining table. “We do not discriminate against any associate based on race, ethnicity, national origin, L.G.B.T.Q. status or any other reason,” the company said in a statement. “Our fair treatment policy ensures an open and inclusive environment.”

Laura FitzRandolph, HMSHost’s chief human resources officer, said the company took complaints of discrimination seriously.

“If an issue comes to our attention, as in this case, we swiftly investigate and resolve it,” she said in a statement.

In its survey, the union said that the median pay for black baristas was less than for white baristas, based on an analysis of wage data for more than 2,000 unionized employees.

In its statement, HMSHost said the pay analysis was misleading and accused the union of using isolated complaints to undermine the company and unionize more shops. UNITE HERE has been organizing at Starbucks airport locations in Orlando, Denver and other cities.

Good on UNITE-HERE for both organizing these workers and for getting this story published in the Times. As I’ve said many times, the way forward here is to hold parent companies accountable for everything down the line, whether foreign or domestic. They are controlling for cost and quality already so there’s no legitimate excuse to not have responsibility for the workers and their treatment.

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