Starbucks office workers drafted a letter to management on Wednesday as executives mandated a reduction in remote work opportunities.
Employees within commuting distance of the company’s Seattle headquarters must travel to the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and a third day determined by their teams, according to a memo seen by CNBC earlier this year. Several dozen office workers created a petition asserting that the firm would diminish productivity and violate trust with employees due to the change.
“This behavior of not listening to partners has also impacted us, the support partners. An unforeseen and poorly planned ‘return to office’ mandate is making our lives more difficult, prioritizing corporate control over productivity, diversity and inclusion, and individual job satisfaction,” the employees wrote. “Our mission of serving ‘one cup, one person, and one neighborhood at a time’ is explicitly ignored when corporate policies attempt to eliminate the individuality of our partners and stores.”
The petition added that “more is at an all-time low” and urged management to let teams “have a voice in setting the working conditions that make them happiest and most effective.” Employees generally prefer virtual work arrangements because of reduced commuting time and more flexibility, but costs for employers can outweigh the benefits of attracting and retaining talent that the policies can enable: 85% of managers believe the shift to hybrid work during the lockdown-induced recession has eroded confidence that employees are remaining productive, according to a study from Microsoft.
The pivot away from remote work has generated controversy within some of the nation’s largest companies, especially in the technology sector. Amazon, which dismissed some 18,000 employees over the past several months, is likewise asking staff members to report to the office at least three times per week. Thousands of employees reacted by starting an internal Slack channel meant to challenge the end of fully remote work; four in five members threatened in one informal survey to search for new positions elsewhere because of the policy change.
The Starbucks employees also called for executives to “respect federal labor laws” and permit store partners to freely vote on unionization. The petition comes after nearly 300 Starbucks locations elected to form labor unions over the past two years and on the same day as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee would decide on issuing a subpoena for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for allegedly failing to comply with federal labor standards.
“While Howard Schultz is a multi-billionaire who runs a very profitable multinational corporation, he must understand that he and his company are not above the law,” Sanders said in a press release. “These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers. For nearly a year, I and many of my colleagues in the Senate have repeatedly asked Mr. Schultz to respect the constitutional right of workers at Starbucks to form a union and to stop violating federal labor laws. Mr. Schultz has failed to respond to those requests.”
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Starbucks has closed several restaurants in major cities due to concerns over crime and homelessness, a phenomenon which followed the company opening their restaurants and bathrooms to people who have not made purchases. The policy change occurred after an incident involving two black men who were arrested for remaining in a Philadelphia store without buying any items.