Tattoo petitions would go on to inspire similarly successful efforts by Skechers, Publix and Jimmy John’s. Since then, more Starbucks employees have launched nearly a hundred campaigns. Nearly 80,000 baristas have taken some kind of action against Coworker, with 43,000 currently active. While many petitions have been unsuccessful, Starbucks workers have claimed victories for several notable changes, from a six-week paid closure during the pandemic, to expanded paid parental leave, to needle disposal boxes in bathrooms.
Starbucks spokeswoman Reggie Borges denied any policy changes at Starbucks were based on petitions from colleagues. He said the company receives employee feedback through a variety of channels, including weekly meetings, surveys, a hotline and managers’ social media platforms. “Of course they said they were thinking about it, and it had nothing to do with my petition,” Williams said. “But I’m like, ‘Of course.'”
Casey Moore, a barista in Buffalo, New York, has been actively involved with the union and colleagues, and it’s no surprise that Starbucks employees are making a difference. “They’re known for hiring LGBTQ people and people who see themselves as activists outside the workplace,” she said. “We also want to have a voice where we work.”
Even if they don’t bring about tangible change, coworker petitions can raise awareness. In 2016, Starbucks employees started noticing that their hours were cut short and their stores were understaffed. The timing couldn’t be worse. Summer is here, and with it comes an irrepressible craving for complex Frappuccino drinks. A California barista named Jaime Prater wrote a letter to CEO Howard Schultz about the issue and published a petition on Coworker titled “Starbucks, lack of labor is killing morale.” Coworker conducted a poll of baristas on its platform and found that labor shortages were a consistent experience.
Shortly after releasing his screed, Pratt got a call from Schultz himself. “It was so exciting,” Platt said. He thought, “If the CEO of this company called me, Mr. Nobody, would take action. But it didn’t.” Platt said Schultz listened to his concerns well, and then transferred him to Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks Americas. He said the company gave Platt the promotion he deserved but never addressed the staffing shortage. “Like, quiet the messenger, then drop the message.”
The petition, still live on Coworker, garnered 25,000 signatures, 17,000 of which were from Starbucks employees. It continues to collect signatures to this day. Some workers cited shortages as a motivation for unionizing.
Borges disputed claims that Starbucks was understaffed and attributed the perceived shortages to seasonal fluctuations, even though Platt published his petition long before Starbucks typically cut jobs in late summer. If there is a staff shortage, store managers can close various ordering channels, such as mobile orders, Borges said.
Although Prater’s campaign was unsuccessful, it helped draw further attention to Coworker and expand its network of baristas — more than 10,000 self-identified Starbucks employees signed the petition in less than six weeks. Platt appeared on news outlets like CNN and gained notoriety among Starbucks employees. Through the connections he made, he crowdsourced a document outlining employees’ top concerns and their implications for shareholders, workers and customers, and delivered it to the company. Although he left the company in 2018, he said he still gets emails about Starbucks almost every week.