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Howard the Coward: The Day My Boss Ran Away

by Joe Tessone

03/03/09- The time is 8:55 AM, 5 minutes before my alarm clock was supposed to sound I am awoken by a text message which says that Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO and #1 union buster, is having a press conference at the Oak and Rush Starbucks location. I jump out of bed, get dressed, and haul downtown. By the time I get there, the news cameras are gone. I look around and there he is sitting behind a merchandise wall in an interview with a few reporters. I order an Iced Tall Passion Tea… no need for caffeine, I’m fired up.

My old District Manager is in the cafe greeting customers and she asks me why I’m there. “Just getting a drink,” I respond. She then proceeds to make a call on her cell phone, obviously calling upper management. After I get my beverage, I find a seat, set my bag down, and I approach him.

“Mr . Schultz?,” I say as I reach out to shake his hand and he stands up, “My name is Joe Tessone, I’m a member of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union, I’d love to talk with you for a few minutes before you leave today.”

Taken off guard he says, “I’m in a meeting right now. We can talk when I’m done.” So I sit patiently at the table next to them, sipping on a my tart beverage. About 10 minutes go by and their interview ends.

Again, I approach the man. “Mr. Schultz. I have been a Starbucks partner for over 4 and a 1/2 years. Three years ago, my coworkers and I gave the company a list of things that were of major concern to us and we have, for the past three years, been ignored by the company. We would like you to sit down at the negotiation table with us to discuss our concerns and needs.”

Immediately, he started to walk backwards away from me. “I don’t have time for this. I have a phone conference to be on,” he said nervously as he turned around and scampered to the back door of the the cafe. “Don’t turn your back on us like this, Howard! Baristas are living in poverty!” I exclaimed. He then disappeared out the emergency exit.

Without hesitation, the Chicago Regional Director enters the scene and asks me if I’d like to sit down and talk with her. Generally, I won’t talk with management without another union member present, but this was a special occasion.

She then started spewing out baseless talking points about “Optimal Scheduling:” the newest tactic in Starbucks’ war against its workers. “It will create full time positions for partners and those who are part time will fill in the gaps,” she said. I asked her if that meant guaranteed hours for full time workers. “We cannot guarantee anything,” she responded.

Essentially, what it comes down to is that they are going to lay off workers who do not “fit into the the new system,” part timers will “fill in the gaps” and will not receive enough hours to qualify for benefits, and so-called full timers will not be guaranteed any number of hours. Basically, nothing will change except that people who cannot comply with the unreasonable expectations for availability will be fired.

Throughout the conversation I kept asking her to meet with the union as a group, since they have continually responded with the exact same talking point, “I am willing to meet with anybody as an individual.” She, of course, kept to the script.

After hearing her say that at least a dozen times, I told her to stop avoiding my question. “Are you willing to meet with us as a collective organization of baristas? It’s a yes or no question.” She responded again with the same talking point, but tagged on “I’m not avoiding your question” to the the front of it.

The conversation continued along the same lines for a few more minutes and I asked in a different way, “You are telling me that you are unwilling then to meet with us as a group. Am I correct in saying that?” She paused a second, looked away, and said “If that is the way you want to look at it…” I then thanked her for her time, picked up my bag, and walked away.

Diplomacy requires a willingness to negotiate. It is unfortunate for everyone that they are so stubborn. The company is spending hundreds of dollars per hour trying to fight us with lawyers while baristas are next to homelessness. We won’t back down. The struggle continues. Howie, you can run, but you can’t hide.