“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

Friday, September 27, 2013

What is the Disposable Employee Model?

After Peet's Coffee & Tea in Chicago fired a dedicated employee of 5-year tenure, and threatened to fire another, baffled Peet's customers came to us asking, what is going on? Why is Peet's getting rid of our favorite baristas?

We realized that it was time to explain in detail a system that has long been obvious to those on the inside. It's called the Disposable Employee Model. 

The D.E.M. is a strategic combination of policies that guarantees short-term employment among the bottom 80-90% of a company. 

What companies use it? More each year, in particular: fast food companies, grocery stores, big box retailers, chain restaurants, and fast coffee. 

What does the D.E.M. look like for a Peet's Coffee & Tea employee?
  • Different work schedule each week (days/hours generated by computer software)
  • Mixtures of shifts that start as early as 4:45 a.m. and end as late as 10:00 p.m.
  • Fluctuating pay: employee scheduled 10 hours one week, 30 hours the next
  • Wages just above legal minumum
  • Annual "raises" not even cost-of-living increases
  • Benefits essentially unattainable
  • Shift lengths around 4-5 hours (working 5 days/week = about 20 hours)
  • Over-hiring practices that create an artificial labor hour scarcity
  • Gratuitously harsh but selectively enforced policies that allow the company to quickly dispose of any employee who sticks around long enough to start complaining about any of the previous issues

Customers inevitably ask, why would an employer use such a terrible model? Because chaos, instability, stress, scarcity, and fear are important elements in preventing and combating resistance. Think for a moment about the psychological influence of the model:
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is "transitional": Employees aren't invested enough to protest, because they are constantly looking for a new job, which often comes in the form of a lateral move to a company with similar work conditions. 
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is "supplemental income": Employees do not complain about poverty wages, because the conditioned public response is always, "You're not suppose to be able to LIVE on what you make there!"
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is not a "Real Job": Employees do not hold the job to "Real Job" legal standards, accepting injuries, sexual harassment, discrimination, and intimidation as simply par for the course. 
  • No full-time option means an employee must get a 2nd job to survive: Employees are too exhausted juggling 2-3 jobs to come together to try to influence company policy.
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is "unskilled labor": Working in a society that values investment over labor, employees internalize rhetoric that demeans the value of their contribution to the company and shames them into silence about the abusiveness of their work conditions.
  • Harsh but selectively enforced rules keep employees in constant fear of losing their jobs: Employees know that raising any real questions with management about the dysfunction of the system is likely to make them targets for retaliation.

What do Peet's workers have to say?

"What’s the worst thing about the Disposable Employee Model? It teaches workers that they’re replaceable, and they know that if they speak up against their employer they will be gotten rid of and replaced by someone else. Will that new employee be better? Probably not. But it doesn’t matter."
-Amanda D, disposed-of employee

"Our bosses have found a way to get by without explicitly intimidating their workers--as long as we believe that we are disposable and can be easily replaced, we will take it upon ourselves to be as agreeable as possible, and never even consider standing up for what's best for us."

-Emma BB, disposed-of employee

If you learned something from reading this post, please share it on social media! Short link: bit.ly/dempost, hash tag: #notdisposable.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reinstate Emma!

Petition To Reinstate Emma
Long-time Peet's Sheffield customers were shocked to hear that a favorite employee and highly skilled barista, Emma Bell Bern, had been fired for being late to work 3 times in 1 year. Hoping the voice of their clientele would have weight with Peet's, customers worked with Emma to write a petition asking Peet's corporate to reconsider its decision.

This cool Sunday morning, regular customers found Emma sitting outside the cafe with an off-duty coworker. Those who hadn't heard the news asked Emma why they hadn't seen her in so many days. Shocked at her response, they eagerly asked how they could help. Emma handed them the petition. 

With two clipboards circulating to accommodate everyone, Emma and Kristy collected 50+ signatures in under 2 hours.

Around 9:00 a.m., as Emma and Kristy sat by the door and continued to break the news to dismayed customers, a tall man got out of his car and quickly approached their table. 

"Are you Emma and Kristy?" the man demanded, pointing his finger at the two women in turn. When the startled women didn't reply, he repeated his question, but when asked for his name, he would not identify himself.

The man turned out to be recently hired Chicago District Manager Glenn Johnson. He ordered Emma to step away from her friend and speak to him alone. Unnerved by his tone, Emma suggested that they speak where they were standing, with her friend present. Glenn repeated his order that she step away from where she was. After asking Kristy to come with her, Emma walked a ways down the sidewalk, where she was berated by Glenn, who accused her of soliciting customers and disrupting business. After threatening to call the police on Emma, and fire Kristy, Glenn eventually calmed down and agreed that if Emma would stop collecting petition signatures, he would meet with her later this week to discuss her termination.

Emma's meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. this Tuesday, September 10th.

Emma's petition reads:
"On August 30th, Peet’s Coffee & Tea’s corporate office directed local management to fire Chicago store Shift Lead Emma Bell Bern. Emma was fired for clocking in late on 3 occasions within a 1-year period. Emma was with Peet’s for 5 years and was recently promoted on the store manager’s strong recommendation. She was an exemplary employee and a store leader. Fellow employees and customers alike are shocked and confused by the decision.

In unilaterally firing Emma, officials at corporate headquarters hijacked local management’s discretion, a key provision of Peet’s Retail Attendance Policy. This top-down dismissal of a senior employee for a minor offense is not just detrimental to the store, the employees, and the customers, but also incredibly disrespectful to the Chicago store’s management team.

We urge Peet’s to reinstate Emma Bell Bern immediately, and to guarantee the employees of Peet’s that all such future decisions will be made in dialogue with local management."

September 13th update: you can now sign Emma's petition online at bit.ly/standwithemma. Thank you for your support.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day 2013!

Labor Day is PWG’s one year coming out anniversary! Here are our favorite success stories of the last year:

September 2012
Peet's Chicago, September 18, 2012
PWG notified the community that we were expecting a corporate entourage to arrive in Chicago and make a statement about a living wage at Peet’s. Supporters gathered outside the store the night of the closed-door meeting and stood respectfully outside with signs, then covered the store windows with their signs to show the Lincoln Park community that Chicago wants Peet’s to pay their workers a living wage.

Days after PWG launched a Facebook page and blog, inspired a community support rally, and sent an internal email cheerfully announcing our organization to every corporate office employee and each of the 200 retail stores, Peet’s corporate bought up peetsworkersgroup.org and over 20 variations of this URL, vainly hoping to curtail our online presence. Peet’s also sent corporate office employees and all Peet’s stores an email referring to our email announcement as “spam” and instructing them to disregard it.

postcard to employees
PWG gave interviews to multiple media sources and appeared in articles in midwest and west coast publications, including award-winning journalist Ellen Cushing’s East Bay Express article, “Chicago Peet’s Employees Are Organizing – Could the East Bay Be Next?” 8th Day Center for Justice, Chicago’s iconic social justice nonprofit, featured PWG as a partner in their newsletter, where they highlighted us as an important campaign to support in the workers rights movement. (8th Day has been instrumental in the ongoing actions and advocacy of our campaign.) In addition to media, professors at prominent universities came forward with statements supporting PWG’s living wage campaign. Read their quotes on PWG’s Facebook page.

October 2012
Effective immediately after PWG publicized Peet’s embarrassing starting wage of $8.50/hour, management quietly raised the starting wage for Chicago retail associates to $9/hour.

November 2012
In response to continued media calls to Peet’s stores concerning PWG, Peet’s instructed retail stores to post memos in the back-of-house instructing store management to avoid making any statements to the media.

December 2012
Peet’s employees across the country working the retail holiday rush received a much-appreciated postcard in the mail at their stores letting them know that PWG was advocating on their behalf to bring a living wage and paid sick days to Peet’s.

January 2013
Clearly inspired by PWG’s sustainable employment campaign, anonymous activists in California mailed a letter to Peet’s stores, printed on the company letterhead and apparently sent from Peet’s corporate headquarters. The letter read as an internal memo from recently retired CEO Pat O’Dea, and promised the implementation of a living wage, paid sick days, and regularly scheduled hours for all employees. Only at the end did the author reveal the letter to be a hoax. Quick-acting employees made copies of the letter before all original copies were intercepted or confiscated from each store. The author has yet come forward to take credit for the letter, but employees across the country got a good chuckle, while Peet’s corporate scrambled to find the culprits internally for several days before giving up. Read a copy of the Fake CEO Letter here.

PWG supporters, taking a cue from the September 2012 Chicago store rally, decorated Peet’s stores in various cities in a similar theme and sent photos to PWG.

March 2013
Aware that a number of senior employees were still making less the new starting rate of $9/hour, PWG launched a successful campaign to bring all employees up to or above $9/hour. The living wage in Chicago for one person with no dependents is calculated by MIT as $10.48/hour. It's a start!

April 2013
Boston, MA, January 2012
PWG member Joshua Van Cleef followed Peet’s Open Door Policy all the way to the top, initiating a frank, hour-long phone conversation with Peet’s new CEO David Burwick. Joshua detailed various Peet’s labor problems for David: 80% of employees not making a living wage, the unsustainability of 4-hour-long shifts, and the inaccessibility of Peet’s much-touted health care coverage. David acknowledged these concerns and promised to address the issue of 4-hour shifts, which he quickly agreed were unreasonably short. He also assured Joshua that there is a substantial amount of support for a living wage within the new Peet’s HR department. Read the Progress Illinois article on Joshua and David’s discussion here.

Shortly thereafter, Peet’s newly hired anti-union lawyer conducted emergency union-busting training sessions for store management in Boston, MA.

May 2013
PWG aggressively publicized Peet’s plan to require all employees of recently acquired Caribou Coffee to reapply for their own jobs when their stores were rebranded as Peet’s stores in the upcoming year, despite the virtually identical nature of the two jobs, and the common ownership of the two companies. PWG advocated for these employees via social media and in discussion with management. Peet’s promptly acknowledged the misguidedness of its plan, and exempted all non-management Caribou employees from the reapplication process.

Fight For 15 rally, Chicago, IL, August 29, 2013 
June 2013
Peet’s new HR team changed course from the company’s stance last September, assuring PWG that it does acknowledge the existence of “group concerns,” and that it will no longer force employees to address concerns only in one-on-one meetings with management. Our HR Senior Manager has assured PWG that employees are free to choose a group representative to bring any group issue to management, and even suggested using the submission of a letter signed by multiple employees as a way of bringing concerns to the company’s attention. HR assures us that, moving forward, group concerns will be addressed in a thorough and timely manner, per the Open Door Policy.

July/August 2014
Whole Foods Strike, July 31, 2013
2013 has marked the burgeoning of a new, creative, and energetic U.S. labor movement, as organizing initiatives gain momentum across the nation. PWG rallied in support at recent worker actions coordinated by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United and the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago. We are in talks with these and other leading justice organizations about partnerships in future campaigns to benefit Peet's workers and other low-wage workers across the nation. We are incredibly inspired by the energy and bravery of our fellow retail and fast-food workers, and look forward to a bright future of solidarity and further community-building.

Labor Day 2013

Capital Grille protest, July 24, 2013
Over the past year, all Chicago PWG members have been offered promotions, including fast tracks to management. We have spoken frankly to management all the way up to the CEO concerning PWG’s values and goals, and we have been personally thanked by district management (and Caribou employees) for convincing Peet’s to guarantee Caribou retail jobs during the Caribou-to-Peet’s transition.

Most importantly, we have broken the oppressive silence that plagues the U.S. low-wage workforce. We have created a respectful voice of dissent within Peet’s. We speak openly about our wages, our rights, and our vision for the company, and we empower our fellow workers to do the same. Creating sustainable employment begins with dialogue, leads to education, and results in action. We are committed to this process, and to our community. Thank you all for your support.

Happy Labor Day!