TheStranger.com: "I Hope That Howard Schultz Hears My Story": A Starbucks Barista on Why He's Fighting for Fair Scheduling

TheStranger.com

by Heidi Grover

On Tuesday, I wrote about Starbucks baristas and other food service workers who marched downtown at sunrise to call for fair scheduling from their employers. Workers said they often get little notice of when they're scheduled to work and their hours can vary dramatically from week to week. At Starbucks, 19-year-old barista Darrion Sjoquist told me, understaffing makes it nearly impossible to call in sick without finding someone to fill in for you, worsening the unpredictability for everyone.

In a new essay up on Medium, Sjoquist describes more about his own experience and it's worth a read.

Sjoquist writes about how, growing up, his mom worked at Starbucks and the two also took care of Sjoquist's niece Khaliah. Because of his mom's erratic scheduling—including the infamous "clopening" shifts—he ended up "picking up a lot of the childcare responsibilities."

At 16, I was waking up at 4:30 a.m. to get Khaliah to her preschool by 7 a.m. I would then rush back to the bus stop to get to my high school by 8 a.m. We never knew what the next week would be like more than a 7 days in advance, sometimes less. There was no consistency. As a result it was difficult to be an involved student. I was late as often as the buses were and couldn’t regularly attend any clubs or groups. Without structure in your life, it’s difficult to form healthy habits and it’s easy to feel lost or overwhelmed.

Now that Sjoquist himself is working at Starbucks, he says he frequently fills in for coworkers when they're sick because he knows how impossible it can be to find someone to cover a shift. That sometimes means closing the store one night and then getting a call around 4 a.m. to fill in for a sick coworker the next morning, effectively working the same "clopenings" his mom did. That whole process of struggling to find a coworker to fill in for you if you're sick, Sjoquist writes, "breeds the mindset that being sick is your fault."

Starbucks expects us to find staff coverage when we call in sick. You are expected to show up for work if your son has been missing for 24 hours or your grandfather has died. If you are so sick that it hurts to speak, you are expected to call and text and beg every available person and ask them to sacrifice their day off, their precious hours before work or after school to help you solve a problem neither of you had any control over.

It’s a strange practice, one that breeds the mindset that being sick is your fault. When this outlook is coupled with incredibly lean staffing, there’s an enormous amount of guilt that comes with calling in sick. When losing just one person means disaster, calling in sick feels like abandoning your friends and peers. The bottom line is that no one chooses to be sick, but Starbucks seems to punish partners for calling out. The policy is to force baristas to ask their co-workers with no notice to work at stores where they’ve never been and to work with people they do not know. For a company as innovative and considerate as Starbucks this seems like it would be a last resort, not standard procedure.

Today, Sjoquist spoke at a conference about "the future of work" in San Francisco. "It’s time," he writes, "for Starbucks to become an industry leader on a new front: fair schedules." Read his full essay here.