Wednesday, July 6, 2022

'I do not feel safe at my store': Stoddard Starbucks workers speak out about conditions

April 20, 2022
<p>Starbucks employee and union organizer Emily Grasel on April 13, 2022.</p>

Starbucks employee and union organizer Emily Grasel on April 13, 2022.

Photo by Sheldon Krause | The State News

Jaclyn Herndon has been working at Starbucks at Grand River Avenue and Stoddard Street for four years now. During her first six months at the location, she went to go clean the bathroom, and when she opened the unlocked door, she saw a man facing the door and masturbating.

“I was sent home, and the next day I came in, and it was like nothing ever happened,” Herndon said.

Herndon said the same man continued to come into the store afterward and would threaten her and her coworkers with violence and verbally assault them. He once got centimeters away from her face, yelling at her and threatening her life.

“It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve voiced my concerns with my manager,” Herndon said. “That man was still allowed to come into our store and was continuing to come into our store up until about ... one or two months ago.”

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Evidently, Herndon is not the only one at her Starbucks store who felt like something needed to be done, because last month, the Stoddard Starbucks location filed for a union election with the NLRB. This is the second store in Greater Lansing to do so, with the Lake Lansing Road and Kerry Street Starbucks being the first.

Emily Grasel, who is also a shift supervisor at the Stoddard Starbucks, said that the day the Lake Lansing Starbucks announced they were organizing was the same day that she, Herndon and a few other coworkers met with representatives from Workers United, or WU. This is the union that has been organizing Starbucks around the nation, starting with two stores in Buffalo, New York.

Both Grasel and Herndon point to safety as being one of the major reasons for choosing to organize with WU.

Grasel said one time, back in November 2021, she had to work and figure out how to ensure the safety of her coworkers and the customers after there were shots fired at the gas station across the street.

“That day, I immediately called my (former) store manager when I found out and was sent to voicemail,” Grasel said. “I then texted her and then tried calling our district manager, who did not pick up.”

Grasel said after that, her store manager did call her back, but the manager said she was not sure what Grasel should do and should “just kind of do what I thought was best.”

Grasel said she felt unsupported in this situation because there was something dangerous happening and nobody in management was reachable.

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As a part of her responsibilities as a shift supervisor, Herndon will sometimes be in charge of opening the store in the morning. One morning, when tasked with doing so, Herndon said she walked into the backroom of the store and saw a man in there. This man had also threatened and yelled at Herndon and her coworkers with violence on multiple occasions.

“Every single time that I go into that room now in the morning, I get nervous,” Herndon said.

Herndon said she has told management that she feels unsafe in the store multiple times, but the answer is the same.

“Feeling scared for my life, feeling awful and nervous and anxious every single time I’m in the store and telling the people who are supposed to be protecting me in those situations that I feel unsafe and not getting more than an ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry you had to experience that’ is incredibly frustrating and infuriating,” Herndon said.

Herndon and Grasel both said nothing is done by Starbucks to ever ban customers from entering the store. Grasel said that she kept asking her district manager if he was going to ban some customers and he would just respond by saying that he was working on it.

So, in August 2021, Herndon decided to call the East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, and filed a complaint about the customers.

This complaint describes two altercations that Herndon had with this customer. The first was the incident three years prior when Herndon had walked in on the customer masturbating; the second was when Herndon told the customer he could not smoke on the patio and the customer proceeded to threaten Herndon's life and call her profanities.

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Herndon emailed her district manager after filing the police complaint notifying him and asked for incident reports filed with Starbucks management to give to the ELPD. Herndon said she never received these incident reports from Starbucks.

It was after Herndon went to the police that pressure was placed on Starbucks to move to ban the customer. However, this was after there was about three years' worth of internal complaints and incident reports filed against the customer with Starbucks.

Arts and humanities junior and Stoddard Starbucks barista Aviana Irrer said she has had many shifts where she has had to work two "floors," instead of one. Floors are the different tasks baristas will be positioned at for a shift, such as drive-thru or register. Irrer said the store will often times not have enough baristas assigned to a shift, forcing those who are scheduled to work extra.

“If you're understaffed, you're working a two-floor or a three-floor,” Irrer said. “Then it's like you have people dipping into other tasks because there isn't someone to fill that role.”

Another issue that Grasel notes are bathrooms. At different points over her time at the Stoddard store, customers would rub poop on the walls of the bathroom, do drugs or have sex in the bathroom. There are also not cameras at the entrance near the bathrooms, so sometimes customers could come into the store and use the bathroom, without the staff knowing who entered.

Irrer said because the baristas cannot clean it up, whenever the customer who was rubbing poop on the walls of the bathroom would do so, the baristas had to call a biohazard service to clean the bathrooms.

"Things happen, especially when you're going to have an open space to the public," Irrer said. "But it's really just the lack of support (from Starbucks) and then handling and dealing with (the customers)."

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Grasel has been working for the coffee giant for two years and said she has voiced her concerns to the district manager for that long and nothing is ever done. So, she said that unionizing seems like the next step for the baristas.

"We've been clear that we respect our partners' voices and their right to organize," a Starbucks spokesperson said in an email to The State News. "From the beginning, we've also been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed."

Since filing for a union election, Grasel said the Stoddard store has put on new locks on the bathroom doors and the backroom in recent weeks. She is not sure if the locks were installed because of the announcement about filing for a union election, or if it was because the new store manager decided to change the locks.

Herndon said having a contract negotiated by a union will help hold Starbucks accountable for how it has affected the baristas at their stores.

"This (union) is our key, almost to say, 'Hey, we don't feel safe coming into work. We don't feel safe working for you. We feel overwhelmed, we feel stressed and uncomfortable,'" Herndon said. "We don't want to feel that way anymore, and I feel that having a contract in place will help secure that for us."

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