“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, November 14, 2012

Peet's Coffee & A Living Wage Pt. 3: Why should Peet's be different?

We have established that Peet's is financially able to pay every employee a living wage. It is clear to us that it would ultimately benefit the company's bottom line to invest in its people. But if the retail/service industry in general is slow to recognize the financial benefits of such investment, why should Peet's be any different from Walmart, or McDonald's?

Two words: Peet's' values. CEO Pat O'Dea once said that what makes Peet's great is that we continue to "challenge the status quo through the lens of our values."

What is the status quo for the Peet's workforce? For 80% of us, it is less than a living wage, fluctuating weekly hours, no sick days, no option to work full time, and unpaid promotions.

So how do Peet's values fit with the status quo? Peet's speaks of its mandatory-part-time minimum-wage retail workforce (80% of its total employee base) using these words: most knowledgeable in the industry, valued members, coffee and tea experts, committed to continuous learning and professional growth, the face of our business, ambassadors for the brand, skilled baristas...and the list goes on and on.

Peet's speaks in no uncertain terms of its fundamental business values: sustainability, community, prosperity, health, integrity, social responsibility, etc. At the Peet's website you can read about initiatives to build essential infrastructure in coffee-growing communities, U.S. partners growing mushrooms on recycled Peet's coffee grounds, and the annual holiday charity fundraising drive at retail stores. One quick glance and you will believe, as many of us did before we worked here, that Peet's is the most socially responsible billion dollar corporation around.

Of course we support every positive outgrowth of Peet's values. But Peet's fails to pay a living wage to those who serve daily as the face of the business. There is nothing sustainable, healthy, or socially responsible about denying 80% of your workforce even a modest living as a result of their hard work.

There is evidence that Peet's did once embrace a more sustainable labor model. Long-term employees speak nostalgically of a Peet's much more closely aligned with its values. For example, just ten years ago retail employees received paid sick leave, as evidenced by this illuminating quote directly from the current Peet's payroll manual:
"Peet's provides Retail staff hired on or before January 31, 2003 and all SMs and ASMs sick time to encourage rest and to recuperate when they are ill, without losing pay."
Somehow around January of 2003 Peet's decided that retail staff are no longer in need of rest and recuperation when ill, or perhaps that they are no longer in need of protection from lost pay.

This fall, Peet's transfers to private ownership under German conglomerate Joh. A. Benckiser Group. Will Peet's' management use this significant transition to revisit Peet's' values, reinstate abandoned employee benefits, begin paying a living wage, and set an example as industry leaders?

Peet's Coffee & A Living Wage 5-part series:
1. Can they afford it?

2. What about the bottom line?
3. Why should Peet's be different than any other retailer?
4. Whatever happened to the dignity of work?
5. Living wage Q&A

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