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Starbucks Workers Expose The Corporation’s “Progressive” Benefits

Despite Howard Schultz's progressive PR campaign, Starbucks is threatening workers' access to health care as a union busting tactic.

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Produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Ian McKenna

Starbucks brags about offering health insurance to workers. But workers say the plans are unaffordable. Some face crippling medical debt. Others are on Medicaid. And some don’t go to the doctor at all. Now Starbucks is threatening abortion and trans benefits to bust the union. We spoke with workers impacted by these policies. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Megan Dimotta: I applied for Medicaid. I have Medicaid now, and that’s probably the best coverage I’ve had since I’ve been working at Starbucks.

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: You know, I’m so proud of the fact that 25 years before the Affordable Care Act, Starbucks provided health insurance to our partners. 

Alyssa Sperrazza: Whenever I do hear, you know, how progressive they are, I mean, I just kind of have to bite back some snarky comments. 

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: I heard partner after partner talk about how health care enhanced the lives of them and their families. 

Sam Amato: Over the years, Starbucks health care plans have gotten more expensive. The coverage has not gone up. 

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: Hundreds and thousands of stories of people in the company who have benefited from health insurance. 

Megan: I can’t afford Starbucks health insurance getting taken out of my paycheck. Like I’m barely paying rent and bills now with what I get paid at Starbucks. If I had to pay $100 out of my check weekly, I’d be struggling to pay for food. 

Sam: Well, Starbucks always says that they value us. [Getting choked up] Sorry, it makes me a little…I’m sorry. I’ve given more than a decade of my life to this company that I give so much time and passion to, and Starbucks doesn’t really do anything to help us out. They can afford it. They can do a lot more and they choose not to. 

Neha Cremin: [My manager and I] talked a little bit about health care and the health care that I use as a trans woman. And then immediately after that, it kind of shifted to, “Well I know you’re using the trans health care benefits. Just know that whenever you’re unionizing, you could gain, you can lose, or you can stay the same with those benefits.” So it felt like a very implicit threat that if we unionize, I would lose access to health care. 

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: …our commitment to providing health care to all of our employees, all of our partners, who work more than 20 hours a week. 

Megan: You think they’re protecting their workers but that’s not really the case. It’s kind of driving workers more into debt if they do get it, so they choose not to, and then they leave them in a risky situation.  

Sam: Over the last couple of years, I have amassed a couple thousand dollars in debt, all for very routine procedures. I have ulcerative colitis, which is a digestive disorder. I have to get colonoscopies every two years and the insurance says it’s not preventative care so they won’t cover it. 

Megan: I go to the CityMD with my Starbucks insurance and, like, I have to pay a $200 co-pay for the check-up where they tell me I have an infection and I need penicillin for it. And then when I go get the penicillin, it’s $100. It really stressed me out. It made me feel like I really couldn’t go to the doctor even though I had health insurance. 

Sam: I had a tumor underneath my ear, on my parotid gland for about five-ish years. I was always worried about the cost, which is why I avoided getting it checked out. I finally got it removed. It was noncancerous, but the doctors say if I waited longer, it could have become cancerous. Here I am with, you know, a couple thousand in bills that I have to owe. 

Megan: I did struggle with dental insurance with Starbucks, and I needed a root canal pretty bad. And I went to the dentist and they were like, “Yeah it’s not covered.” And I ended up paying, like, $3,000 for a root canal out of my own pocket, like, pretty much my savings. 

Sam: Some years, I get close to 50% of my paycheck paid to health care. I have a couple hundred dollars [of medical debt] at the moment that is left outstanding, that’s kind of difficult to pay off. You know, I have to prioritize other bills and other necessities before that.  

[Cheddar News clip]: Bloomberg is reporting baristas at the company say their managers are warning them that transgender-inclusive could go away if those workers unionize. 

Neha: They basically put out a letter that was like, “We know that y’all are concerned that Starbucks, won’t provide you access to health care, won’t provide you access to this benefit. And we just want to say we won’t answer that question.”

Alyssa: Starbucks can give all of their updated current and future benefits to any and all partners, whether they’re unionizing or not. It’s just been undecided and unclear whether or not it’s going to actually extend to everyone right now. 

Neha: I think the goal with a lot of that is confusion and misinformation. I think they want partners to be scared and panicked that they will lose these benefits and access to them. 

Alyssa: Things like health care should never be dangled over people’s heads like that, especially by a company that just has such a progressive message. 

Sam: We formed a union because there are some of these issues that are really weighing hard on us. Starbucks always has said that they listen to us…

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: Make sure that, you know, I am listening. 

Sam: …and they respect us. 

[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: The kind of culture that respects and dignifies all people in the company. 

Sam: But they’ve never been there and, you know this is why we decided to organize. We want to make things better. They can afford it, they can absolutely afford to give it to us and to help us out and to give us even more and they just choose not to. And it’s disgusting. 
[Clip of Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz]: Uh, if you ask our people, what is the two or three biggest benefits that Starbucks provides? Number one is Spotify.

Videography by Bunee Tomlinson

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