Despite Starbucks’s claims that it is a progressive employer that prioritizes the needs of its workers, newly released data shows that a majority of the company’s hourly workers make less than the average living wage across the U.S.
According to research from Harvard/UCSF’s The Shift Project and the Economic Policy Institute, 63 percent of hourly workers at Starbucks make less than $15 an hour. About a quarter of the company’s hourly workers make between $10 and $12 an hour, while another quarter make about $12 to $14 an hour, the data finds. Only about 10 percent of its workers make above $18 an hour.
This means that a majority of the company’s hourly workers don’t make what economists qualify as a living wage. Even excluding expenses like debts or retirement savings, full time workers must make a wage of at least $15 an hour or higher for a single adult with no children to live on in most states, according to 2021 data; for two adults with two children, the living wage in 2019 was $16.54 an hour, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers found. That amount is most likely higher now, as inflation has soared in the past year.
A $15 an hour minimum wage has been a goal of the labor movement for so long that the $15 that activists began demanding in 2012 is now worth only about $12, and advocates are asking for a new baseline of at least $18 or more. In California, which houses more Starbucks locations than any other state, a living wage for an adult with no children is $19.41 an hour, according to MIT.
Many Starbucks workers live in large, expensive metropolitan areas and work for the company part-time while also working other jobs or attending school. On top of that, workers say that the company has been cutting hours across the board for part- and full-time workers, making liberal cuts to workers’ finances as a tactic to quash the union drive.
This is despite the fact that the company is making record profits. Last year, the company’s profits grew 24 percent to a total of $24.5 billion, while then-CEO Kevin Johnson received a nearly 40 percent compensation raise to over $20 million. Starbucks Workers United, which is working to unionize hundreds of stores across the country, says that the company is decreasing hours in order to union bust.
Starbucks often touts itself as a progressive company, referring to employees as “partners” and making political statements in support of LGBTQ people and against moves from people like Donald Trump, even as they bar workers from making their own political statements at work. Workers say that the progressive environment that attracted them to the company has diminished over the years — if it ever existed within the company in the first place — and that they’ve been increasingly treated as disposable, during the pandemic in particular.
Over the past months, the company has been firing workers for seemingly trivial reasons, or for violations of rules that workers say would not normally constitute a termination — including for a sink breaking, allegedly being late and allegedly recording supervisors without their permission. As Vice reports, at least 18 pro-union workers have been fired over the past two months.
Throughout its union-busting campaign, Starbucks has continually touted its benefits as a reason that workers don’t need a union. On its anti-union website, the company brags about its health insurance and retirement benefits, for instance, as a show of how well workers are treated. However, employees say that many of the benefits the company offers aren’t accessible to workers because they’re too expensive with their current salaries.