“Challenge the status quo through the lens of our values. This is our rallying cry.” --Pat O’Dea, Peet’s Coffee & Tea CEO, 2011 Annual Report

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Very Peculiar Meeting

The question on the tip of everyone's tongue is obvious: "Did you get it? What exactly did Peet's have to say about a living wage and sick days?"

First, let's set the stage.

This meeting was no routine occurrence. In the 4+ years certain PWG members have worked at Peet's Chicago, no one recalls a regional director ever coming to visit our store, let alone closing the store down 2 hours early to have a meeting with the entire staff. Here are the preceding events, in chronological order.

September 3: PWG sent the Labor Day Letter via email to district management, cc'ing HR and CEO Pat O'Dea.

September 5: The district manager visited our store and pulled certain letter-signers aside individually, telling each of us that she had received the letter and forwarded it to the appropriate people, and that Sam Ferreira was the person who would come to Chicago to respond to our letter, in person, the week of September 16th, and that we could choose to meet with him with the whole store present, or with only PWG and any interested parties.

She then posted a signed letter, from Mr. Ferreira to our store, in which he stated, "I recently spoke to [district manager's name], who shared with me some team member concerns that had recently been expressed to her. I would like to take the opportunity at the all-store meeting to speak to these concerns..."

The district manager also encouraged us to email her with any further questions we might have concerning the meeting.

September 7: PWG sent an email to the district manager with polite inquiries about the specifics of the meeting. It has not been answered.

September 11: The meeting date was set for September 18th, a day one letter signer could not attend, and written into the store schedule as a mandatory store meeting for all other employees.

September 13: Sensing a distinct shift in tone, PWG employed Peet's' Open Door Policy and sent an email to Mr. Ferreira, cc'ing HR, asking the same questions about the meeting as our September 7th email had. It has not been answered.

"The purpose of our Open Door Policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee. Our Open Door Policy means that employees are free to talk with any manager at any time."

PWG began to suspect that no one in the corporate structure at Peet's above our district manager was willing to address PWG as a group, or respond to us at our group's email address, and that in the meantime the district manager had presumably been instructed not to do so anymore either.

In light of these actions, perhaps what transpired at the meeting was not that surprising.

September 18, 7:00 PM: Mandatory All-Store Meeting
Accompanying Mr. Ferreira at the meeting were an HR representative and our soon-to-be new district manager. All tables were moved aside and chairs were arranged in a circle in the center of the store. A hearty hello was delivered by the affable Mr. Ferreira, and the meeting commenced.

We went around the circle and gave our name, time with the company, and favorite tea or coffee, as Mr. Ferreira took notes.

Next, Mr. Ferreira shared some of his personal history, and spoke about his respect for the vision and mission of the company. He also congratulated the staff on our high performance levels, as demonstrated in the numbers and witnessed by him and his associates that day in the store.

His enthusiastic and specific praise was reminiscent of a line from the training workbook given to all new retail employees:

"Your job is one of the most important at Peet's."

After the affirmation portion of the meeting, Mr. Ferreira introduced the bait-and-switch of the evening. To our surprise, he began addressing a list of store-level, operational concerns we had brought to our store manager over a month prior. He promised, with much solemnity, that these issues would be addressed and taken seriously, because they were, indeed, of great importance to the company.

As he re-stated his commitment to making sure rules in the store were being followed, it became clear that Mr. Ferreira had lied when he said he would address the concerns brought to the district manager. Instead, he and his team suggested that our store seemed "divided," and invented an issue of "low morale," which he then tried to pin on local management. It soon became clear that the team's plan was simply never to address the Labor Day Letter and instead scapegoat our manager, despite the fact that every employee in the room was interested only in Peet's official response to the proposals in the Letter.

Meanwhile, outside the store, loyal Peet's customers, striking Chicago school teachers, former Peet's employees, and other supporters had gathered just after the beginning of the meeting. They stood silently facing us for a long minute before taping nearly 200 signs to the windows and doors, covering the front of the store. The signs remained on the store for over two hours as the meeting dragged tensely on.

After the leadership team from California refused to answer yet another question, one employee rose from his seat and walked to the window to read the words on the sign to the gathered assembly.

"We support Peet's Coffee & Tea as industry leaders, and we support them paying their employees a living wage."

The only acknowledgement the leadership team gave to the supporters outside was to express disappointment that we had taken our concerns "outside the store." Various employees then brought up the Letter and requested that the official response from Peet's corporate be delivered in this meeting, or that another meeting be set up to discuss the Letter and its proposals later in the week. Both requests were met with evasive reponses and attempts to redirect the questioners into later "individual meetings."

As the meeting drew to a close, an employee asked, one last time, if there would be any possibility of discussing the letter. Mr. Ferreira replied, again, that he wanted "to talk to individuals, about issues that affect[ed] the store," to which a different employee angrily responded, "These issues affect all of us!"

That frustrated statement sums up the tone of the store at the end of the meeting. There was disappointment on behalf of the employees, and some felt disrespected, but the palpable tension from the most awkward parts of the last two hours was gone from the air. As the group broke up, there was a collective sense that the employees of Peet's Coffee and Tea Store 403 had just been given the run-around--another group of workers bullied by a billion-dollar corporation.

Some employees stayed inside after the meeting, helping rearrange the tables and chairs, and some stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. Mr. Ferreira stayed inside, but the rest of his team immediately rushed outside to begin taking down the wallpaper of support that covered the front of the store.

Rumor has it that more than a couple customers stopped by the coffee shop that evening and, while surprised to find it closed early, were even more shocked to read the papers on the windows. Hopefully those customers seek out more information, and maybe they'll find this article.

To those readers out there who support the campaign:
              Spread the word!

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