Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food for the working poor

In more employment news from our robust and thriving economy, a Starbucks employee who is on food stamps after his hours were cut to no more than 30 a week is fired for eating an expired sandwich out of a trash can:
Coulson Loptmann, a 21-year-old part-time barista, said he grabbed a plastic-wrapped sausage sandwich out of the trash can in the midst of a seven-hour shift on Monday. According to Loptmann, the sandwich was one of a few being thrown out because of its impending expiration.

Loptmann’s store manager found about Loptmann’s actions and contacted Starbucks’ human resources department.

Eating expired sandwiches out of the trash violates Starbucks' policies, according to a company spokesperson who was quoted in the article.  But the rest of the story is in the final paragraph:
Loptmann, who is currently receiving food stamps, claims he had a great relationship with his employees and supervisors. He reportedly was hired in 2012 and has seen his shifts diminish to no more than 30 hours per week.
If I were managing a coffee shop and I saw a 21-year-old employee who I knew to be on food stamps taking and eating an expired sandwich out of the trash can in the store--in the middle of a seven-hour shift, no less--I would be thinking more like a Christian and a mom and a human being than as a manager.  Why are you doing this?  Are you hungry?  Do you need food? would be the kinds of questions I would be asking.  The last thing that would occur to me would be to call human resources to report the incident.  This, of course, is one reason why I would make a terrible coffee shop manager.

The bigger problem here is that our new definition of the working poor includes young men in their early 20s who can only find work for 30 hours a week or less and must apply for food stamps in an effort to have enough to eat--an effort that appears to be at least somewhat unsuccessful.  But when your employer, worried that you will be counted as a "full-time employee" for mandatory government health care purposes if you regularly work more than 29 hours a week, cuts your hours down to the starvation point, is it any wonder that our new working poor need both government health care in the form of Medicaid and food stamps in order to survive?

The Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, made more than 16 million dollars in compensation last year and has a net worth of 1.6 billion dollars.  Meanwhile, baristas like Coulson Loptmann make just under $10/hour, which at 30 hours a week is $300--and remember, that's for a week with the maximum number of hours, which is not going to be every week by any means.  And the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Seattle area--Loptmann worked in a downtown Seattle area store--is just over $1000/month.

Maybe the baristas at Starbucks could set up a small box for food donations next to their tip jars.  It could say "Food for the Working Poor."  At least that way some of them wouldn't have to go a full seven-hour shift without eating, or resort to sneaking discarded food out of the store trash can.


Elizabeth said...

And yet the Starbucks' CEO claims no hours cuts ahead of the Affordable Care Act.

What gives?


Red Cardigan said...

I don't know, Elizabeth. That's interesting! According to the link you sent Starbucks will continue to pay some health benefits for part-time employees who work 20 hours/week.

When I lived in WA, the way companies got around this was a six-week rule. Say you worked between 20 and 30 hours every week for five straight weeks--well, then, your sixth week you'd be scheduled for zero to 9 hours, so you wouldn't count as "part-time" for benefits. They did the same thing for full-time workers: you could work 39 hours a week for five weeks, and then that sixth week you'd get less than 20 hours.

I don't know if this is what's happening here, or if it's simply a case that the CEO doesn't know what local store operators are doing to keep costs down. I know there's a lot of scoffing at store level in places like these over "ivy-tower" mandates from on high, where a CEO says, "Don't cut hours! But keep employee costs below X dollars!" Since the two are mutually exclusive, lots of store operators simply ignore the first and abide by the second, knowing that's the one they'll get in trouble for ignoring.

Elizabeth said...

Erin - your scenario sounds right - a CEO out of touch with how various corporate mandates conflict and how local management copes with the disconnect.

I have faith in the infinite ability of corporations to find new ways around the concept of fairness, and to be able to keep a straight face doing so while claiming to value their employees.


Elizabeth said...

That sounds plausible - A CEO out of touch with how local managements copes with conflicting corporate mandates.

I have faith in the infinite ability of corporations to screw workers over yet maintain a straight face while claiming to value the employees.


Barbara C. said...

I also want to point out that depending on what the local food safety laws are the Starbucks might have been fined if it was known that the guy ate the expired sandwich, even if it was technically taken out of the trash. Some states have very specific laws of what must be done with left-overs and extras.

Unknown said...

He had health insurance as a part-timer. Yes, it stinks that they were so unmerciful towards a hungry employee, but trying to tie it to a non-existent Obamacare link destroys your message.

alcogito said...

There is an oversupply of workers. If immigration "reform" is passed, there will many more, so there is no need to raise wages, offer benefits. If you don't like it, lump it. You will not be hard to replace.

Did the people who wrote the health care and immigration laws anticipate this?