Friday, March 28, 2008


Since today's work schedule started with a meeting at a Starbucks location in Minneapolis, Minnesota I was reminded of the court judgement in California they lost last week. This class action lawsuit forces Starbucks to pay $100 million in back tips plus interest to current and former baristas (fancy word for "coffee servers") . Full details can be found at --

Apparently Starbucks allowed/perhaps encouraged shift supervisors to take a share of "tip jar" earnings left by satisfied customers. Honestly though I do think we should call these "tips" by their more accurate name -- "loose change" -- since I doubt that many customers perform the mental math at Starbucks that is necessary for tips in restaurants.

For me the most troubling quote in the MSNBC article I read was this one:

Terry Chapko, an attorney for the baristas, said the ruling was a victory, but the case was far from over. “Starbucks should be paying their shift supervisors a supervisory wage, not compensating them through tips that legally belong to baristas,” he said.

Chapko's comment about wages is a red flag for me given the growing trend of city councils to mandate "living wages" that companies must pay their employees. Now since my first "real" job outside of the home was washing dishes and waiting on tables at a local restaurant I have personal experience with the importance of tips in American society. No, Terry Chapko - the problem is not the wages Starbucks pays its supervisors but instead it is the "tip jar" system itself since it is at best a socialist model whereby the baristas split up the "pooled" tips at the end of the day. But in this case it was even worse -- the supervisors took a share of the tips which to me is a throwback to feudalism!

So Starbucks could have avoided this entire lawsuit by avoiding the "common tip jar" and replacing it with a set of tip jars for each employee working during each shift. Perhaps allow the employees to individually (now there is a bad word given the "collective" world we live in!!) decorate their personal tip jar to attract customers' loose change.

Such a system would not only reward the best workers but it would also empower consumers by giving them a choice -- if "Tony" did a great job on my double non-fat frappe-latte then I would tip his jar but if "Fred" at the cash register could not organize a two car funeral as he processed my change from a $20 bill for a $4.35 coffee then Fred would not get a tip.

No sharing of the fruits of labor unless it is voluntary,


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