The tattoo application would continue to inspire similarly successful efforts at Skechers, Publix and Jimmy John’s. Since then, several Starbucks workers have launched nearly a hundred campaigns. Nearly 80,000 baristas have taken some form of action on the Coworker, and 43,000 are currently active. Although many petitions have failed, Starbucks workers have claimed victory for several notable changes, ranging from a six-week store closure with pay during the pandemic to extended paid parental leave to needle boxes in the bathrooms.
Starbucks spokeswoman Reggie Borges denies that Starbucks has based any of its policy changes on Coworker petitions. He says the company receives feedback from employees through a variety of channels, including weekly meetings, surveys, a hotline and a social media platform for executives. “Of course they said they were already considering it and it had nothing to do with my petition,” Williams says. “But I’m like ‘safe’.”
For Casey Moore, a barista in Buffalo, New York, who has been active both in the union effort and at Coworker, it comes as no surprise that Starbucks employees have made changes. “They are known for hiring LGBTQ people and people who see themselves as activists outside the workplace,” she says. “We also want to have an impact on the places we work.”
Even when they do not result in tangible changes, Coworker applications can create attention. In 2016, Starbucks workers began to notice that their hours were being cut and that their stores were understaffed. The timing could not have been worse; summer was on its way, and with it the unquenchable thirst for complicated Frappuccino drinks. A California barista named Jaime Prater wrote a letter to CEO Howard Schultz about the issue, publishing a petition on Coworker entitled “Starbucks, labor shortages kill morale.” Colleague ran a poll for baristas on his platform and found that the shortage of labor was a consistent experience.
Shortly after laying up his screed, Prater received a call from Schultz himself. “It was exciting,” Prater says. He thought, “If the CEO of this company calls me, Mr. Nobody, action will be taken. But it did not.” Prater says Schultz kindly listened to his concerns and then transferred him to Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks’ Americas operations. The company gave Prater pay back for a promotion he should have received, but never addressed the shortage of staff, he says. “It was like, silence the messenger, and omit the message.”
The petition remains alive at Coworker, where it has garnered 25,000 signatures, 17,000 of which come from Starbucks employees. It continues to collect signatures to this day. Some workers have mentioned staff shortages as motivation to union.
Borges denies that Starbucks understaffed stores and attributed the perceived shortage to seasonal fluctuations, though Prater announced his petition well before Starbucks typically cuts staff in late summer. Borges says store managers can shut down various ordering channels, such as mobile orders, in the event of a staffing crunch.
Although Prater’s campaign was unsuccessful, it helped raise awareness for Coworker and expand its network of baristas – more than 10,000 self-identified Starbucks employees signed the petition in less than six weeks. Prater appeared on news media like CNN and became known among Starbucks employees. Through the relationships he built, he crowdsourced a document that outlined employees’ biggest concerns and their impact on shareholders, workers, and customers, and delivered it to the company. Despite leaving the company in 2018, he says he still receives almost weekly emails about Starbucks.