The Slow Burning Fuse

an atheisitic anarchistic scorcher

sabotage is easy and fun – The work to rule


The Work To Rule

Part 1: the match that started the fire

Our Store Manager, Dan, was transferred to our store four months before.  We all gave him a chance to pull things together.  As previously mentioned, our store is very high volume.  It is common for us to serve 100 customers in a half hour and pull in $10,000 in coffee sales before 10am.    Dan was in over his head, he struggled to make a single drink and if he was on the floor for more than 30 minutes he would be covered in sweat.  He was scattered, barking orders that caused confusion, and refused to take advice from the many baristas who had worked in our store for over five years.   The result was mass confusion, low moral and being subjected to humiliating comments from frustrated customers.  Dan played favorites and if you questioned his decisions you had your hours cut or were transferred to another store.

Anna knew that she jeopardized more than just that day’s pay when she made her way to the back room to ask to go home ill.  But she never expected what would happen next.  Anna timidly approached Dan while he was sitting at his desk pretending to check the product order forms that will nonetheless be incorrect.  Not even turning to acknowledge Anna while she is explaining how she almost fainted, Anna finally made her request.  The words “I need to go home” triggered Dan.  For a man who never moves fast, Dan spun around at the speed of light and in his frustration flung a 3” metal ringed binder full of paper at Anna while barking “are you really that sick?”   Anna was speechless, so stunned at this childish aggression, she backed away.  Retreating to the backline where the rest of us continued to work, we all agreed that she should just clock out and go home.  Dan was completely out of line.

Part 2:  the bat cave

Word of our Starbucks Store Manager, Dan, throwing a binder at an employee spread through the store like wild fire.   Everyone was furious.  We have tolerated inconsistent scheduling, low wages, on going verbal abuse and much more, this, however, was the last straw.   We decided it was time to meet up, and met at a bar down the street from work, which we called “the Bat Cave. ” Here we secretly spoke about ways we could take back power at work and make our jobs better.     We all decided we had had enough and it was time to take action.  The group came to the conclusion to use two tactics at the same time to pressure Starbucks to fire or transfer Dan but also to immediately resolve the issue of being understaffed.

To implement the first tactic, we came up with a list of issues we had with Dan and decided to call Partner Resources, a third party phone line that is supposed to resolve issues that affect baristas.

Our second tactic was designed to address immediately the issue of under-staffing.  We were working ourselves to death under Dan’s reign.  Our store is so big that we should always have 7-9 people scheduled to work the morning rush.  Lately we have had as few as 3 and an average of only 5 people working.  The result of this cost cutting measure was that the customer line reached out the door, customers were mad that service was taking so long, baristas were getting cussed at and verbally abused, we were constantly burning and cutting themselves because we were moving so fast, we often put ourselves in dangerous situations to save time, for example climbing on counters to reach supplies because it takes too long to grab the ladder, and new untrained baristas who due to the lack of training messed up orders.

It was during our meeting at the Bat Cave that we decided as a group to not kill ourselves anymore for a company that did not have our best interest at heart.  We decided if we were going to be arbitrarily yelled at for taking shortcuts to speed up service, we would stop.  From this point on we would follow every single rule.  This meant getting customer names and spelling them correctly, making each drink using the method Starbucks created-rather than the short cuts every good barista learns, we brewed coffee in a particular order according to a beeper rather than keeping an eye on things so we don’t run out of fresh coffee.  We would leave the floor to change rags every two hours instead of when there is a lull in the rush and every 10 minutes someone would leave the floor to clean the lobby.

We adjourned the meeting feeling empowered and optimistic.  We would no longer be working for a low-wage; instead we were working to rule.

Part 3:  behind the line

The day after Starbucks workers met at the Bat Cave we found ourselves working an understaffed morning shift but this time it was different.  Instead of feeling the normal frustration, those of us who were at the meeting exchanged knowing glances and began implementing our plan of following every rule, thereby slowing down service.  We also whispered to partners who were not in the know to slow down, don’t kill yourself.  It was as if everyone took a deep breath and began working at a safe and thorough pace.  The effects were instant.  The speed of service dropped immediately.  We ran out of brewed coffee because we were only brewing when the beeper signaled it was time.  Everyone stayed in the positions they were assigned and acted only at the directions of the Store Manager.  Every 10 minutes when someone was assigned to clean the lobby, we did a thorough job, ensuring everything was clean and properly stocked.  Every drink and food order was perfect.

Dan, the Store Manager, lost his mind.  He was running around like a crazed man.  It was the most any of us had ever seen him work.  The best part was he couldn’t get mad at us, not only were we doing our jobs but we were doing them exactly as we should.  Each drink was made perfectly, every pastry was cooked one at a time on the correct oven setting, and each cleaning task was done exactly as it should be.

We continued to do this all week.  We found ourselves giggling and sharing secret exchanges of encouragement.   It was common to hear “wow, look Dan is working today!  Now he knows what we go through every day”.   We were working as a team instead of blaming each other for a situation that none of us could control.

Meanwhile, partners were calling Partner Resources.  Everyone called the hotline number, with the exception of two baristas and two supervisors.  We all stuck to the issues we came up with in the initial meeting, with the hope that our calls would tell a consistent story.

Nothing seemed to be happening but at least we felt in control.  We felt like we were doing something to make our jobs and our lives better rather than hoping things would change.  These were our jobs, our store and our customers, without us there would be no Starbucks.  Our ability to slow down the rate of business reinforced this fact.

A week after we started our work to rule and coordinated contacts to Partner Resources we saw the results.  An investigation was launched into our store.  Dan’s bosses were in our store every day.  Interestingly enough the investigation was not the result of our phone calls and complaints but because we had cut business in the store by over $10,000 that week by slowing down.  Dan’s bosses were furious at the loss of business.  They watched as every 5th customer left the store because the line was too long and slow moving.  When baristas were asked why this was happening we all replied, “we are understaffed.  We need between 7 to 9 people to do our jobs well and keep customers happy”.  The next weeks schedule had already been printed but suddenly Dan was asking everyone if they want more hours.  He added at least two people to every shift.  After that we always had enough people scheduled to do our jobs right.  Dan now knew what would happen if we were understaffed and he knew the loss of business we could cause him would likely affect his future at the company.

Sadly, we were not able to get Dan removed as a Store Manager, he continues to make our lives a living hell.  However, the power we felt that week will not be forgotten.  The ties of solidarity amongst those involved in the planning and implementation will be long lasting.   We all tasted what it would be like to have control over our jobs and that can never be taken away.


FW Sarah

Starbucks Workers Union

Adapted from here :


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This entry was posted on December 9, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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