Work to Rule. Part 1

This is a re-post of an article by the same name also published on

The Match That Started the Fire

Weekends are notoriously crazy for a Starbucks barista. These are the days when people have time to vent their frustrations from the previous workweek on some unsuspecting worker. Customers come in with their screaming children, busloads of tourists struggle to understand why a small drink would be called “tall”, and the stores themselves are almost always understaffed to handle the demand. It is therefore fitting that it was Sunday when an event triggered Starbucks baristas to engage in a clever power play to make work conditions better.

Anna, also lovingly known as Momma Bear for her fiercely protective attitude, is originally from Florida. She told me her story once as we walked around the neighborhood where we work; the abuse she endured at home, the rape that resulted in the birth of her son, bullying at the hands of other girls at school, and the death of her best friend. Anna has been a Starbucks barista for the last three years. She likes the job because her coworkers are nice and show her respect. She knows almost every customer who comes into our high volume store and sometimes even decorates his or her cup with hand drawn pictures. Anna’s ability to work often suffers from chronic health issues. I have worked shifts where she leaves the floor to cough-up blood. The intensity of the work we do when we are understaffed amplified by other environmental factors that come from being poor and living in the projects, causes her to fall ill and catch every cold and virus that she comes into contact with.

This particular Sunday, Anna needed to leave early due to illness. She had already worked shifts sick that week, but today she just couldn’t do it. She knew that she wouldn’t be paid for the hours she took off and risked losing her health care benefits by falling short of the hours required to qualify. Anna walked into the back room where our Store Manager was sitting to make a much-needed request.

Our Store Manager, Dan, transfer to our store four months before. We all gave him a chance to pull things together. As previously mentioned, our store is very high volume. It is common for us to serve 100 customers in a half hour and pull in $10,000 in coffee sales before 10am. Dan was in over his head, he struggled to make a single drink and if he was on the floor for more than 30 minutes he would be covered in sweat. He was scattered, barking orders that caused confusion, and refused to take advice from the many baristas who had worked in our store for over five years. The result was mass confusion, low morale and being subjected to humiliating comments from frustrated customers. Dan played favorites and if you questioned his decisions you had your hours cut or were transferred to another store. Anna knew that she jeopardized more than just that day’s pay when she made her way to the back room to ask to go home ill. But she never expected what would happen next. Anna timidly approached Dan while he was sitting at his desk pretending to check the product order forms that will nonetheless be incorrect. Not even turning to acknowledge Anna while she is explaining how she almost fainted, Anna finally made her request. The words “I need to go home” triggered Dan. For a man who never moves fast, Dan spun around at the speed of light and in his frustration flung a 3″ metal ringed binder full of paper at Anna while barking “are you really that sick?” Anna was speechless, so stunned at this childish aggression, she backed away. Retreating to the backline where the rest of us continued to work, we all agreed that she should just clock out and go home. Dan was completely out of line.

Read Part 2: The Bat Cave.
Read Part 3: Behind the Line.

FW Sarah
Starbucks Workers Union

Starbucks Jargon


someone who makes drinks, cleans bathrooms and the store, cashier, and stocks supplies.


someone who cleans and restocks items. Starbucks has almost entirely removed this position from the company, forcing baristas to take turns cleaning and stocking while they are serving the customers.

Shift Supervisor or Shift:

often called a barista who counts money. They run the floor and let baristas know when they can take a break and where they should be working. They also order more supplies, count money for the registers, and handle “situations” or rowdy customers as needed.

Assistant Store Manager:

Does many of the same tasks as the Store Manager and acts as their assistant in running the store. They also do the job of a barista during their shifts.

Store Manager:

Is in charge of scheduling, ordering, implementing new promotions. They should also be on the floor helping baristas when we are busy.

Floor or back line:

the area where we make drinks and serve the customers.

Back room:

where extra products are stored and we take our breaks.

Twitter icon Instagram icon Facebook icon Mastodon icon GitHub icon