Life behind a Starbucks counter during the Coronavirus pandemic

Employees offered a $3/hour raise to stay on the job

WBEN Newsroom
March 29, 2020 - 7:00 pm

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN/Mike Pesarchick) - As businesses across Western New York began to close as novel coronavirus COVID-19 spread, work continued as usual for employees in the area’s service industries.

In fact, according to a barista at a local Starbucks coffee shop, business not only continued as usual but increased until workers were swamped with orders.

“It was so busy you did not even have a minute to stand,” said “Jane,” a Starbucks employee who asked not to be identified for job security reasons.

But while orders piled up, the employees at Starbucks we talked with were not provided any protection in the form of gloves or masks despite handling dozens of individual orders. Jane alleged that the staff was told to bring in their own. The only gloves available were standard oversized latex gloves for handling food.

“When people would come by people would be like, ‘Why aren’t you closed,’” Jane said. At the time, Starbucks had eliminated in-store seating but allowed takeout orders at the counter and in the drive-thru.

The heavy workload led some Starbucks employees to start a petition on coworker.org, a website that hosts petitions for employee matters, demanding that Starbucks suspend business while providing a salary to its baristas.

The petition had reached 37,296 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the petition, Starbucks employees across the country planned a walkout on Monday, March 23, called the “National Coffee Break,” encouraging employees and customers to avoid Starbucks until the demands in the petition were reached.

“We weren’t trying to take a vacation; we were just scared. We have older parents,” Jane said, noting that many of her coworkers were worried about contracting the coronavirus while on the job.

Starbucks Drive Thru

The walkout was not necessary. On March 20, Starbucks announced in a letter that it would be closing all stores to in-store purchases and switched to drive-thru and delivery-only transactions. In addition, all employees will be given one month’s pay.

Jane said employees were also offered a $3/hour raise to stay on the job. She chose to stay home and receive the month’s pay, which will be an average of the hours she worked from February 1 to March 1.  

 Since Jane had reduced her hours in February for school, she said the pay won’t be enough for her bills. “It’s not going to be enough for anyone except those full-time,” she said.

Some Starbucks stores in the area, such as the location on Sheridan Drive in Williamsville, have chosen to close completely to drive-thru traffic as well. Others remain open for drive-thru and delivery for those that need their coffee fix.  

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