Work to Rule. Part 3

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

Behind the Line

The day after Starbucks workers met at the Bat Cave we found ourselves working an understaffed morning shift but this time it was different. Instead of feeling the normal frustration, those of us who were at the meeting exchanged knowing glances and began implementing our plan of following every rule, thereby slowing down service. We also whispered to partners who were not in the know to slow down, don’t kill yourself. It was as if everyone took a deep breath and began working at a safe and thorough pace. The effects were instant. The speed of service dropped immediately. We ran out of brewed coffee because we were only brewing when the beeper signaled it was time. Everyone stayed in the positions they were assigned and acted only at the directions of the Store Manager. Every 10 minutes when someone was assigned to clean the lobby, we did a thorough job, ensuring everything was clean and properly stocked. Every drink and food order was perfect.

Dan, the Store Manager, lost his mind. He was running around like a crazed man. It was the most any of us had ever seen him work. The best part was he couldn’t get mad at us, not only were we doing our jobs but we were doing them exactly as we should. Each drink was made perfectly, every pastry was cooked one at a time on the correct oven setting, and each cleaning task was done exactly as it should be. We continued to do this all week. We found ourselves giggling and sharing secret exchanges of encouragement. It was common to hear “wow, look Dan is working today! Now he knows what we go through every day”. We were working as a team instead of blaming each other for a situation that none of us could control. Meanwhile, partners were calling Partner Resources. Everyone called the hotline number, with the exception of two baristas and two supervisors. We all stuck to the issues we came up with in the initial meeting, with the hope that our calls would tell a consistent story.

Nothing seemed to be happening but at least we felt in control. We felt like we were doing something to make our jobs and our lives better rather than hoping things would change. These were our jobs, our store and our customers, without us there would be no Starbucks. Our ability to slow down the rate of business reinforced this fact.

A week after we started our work to rule and coordinated contacts to Partner Resources we saw the results. An investigation was launched into our store. Dan’s bosses were in our store every day. Interestingly enough the investigation was not the result of our phone calls and complaints but because we had cut business in the store by over $10,000 that week by slowing down. Dan’s bosses were furious at the loss of business. They watched as every 5th customer left the store because the line was too long and slow moving. When baristas were asked why this was happening we all replied, “we are understaffed. We need between 7 to 9 people to do our jobs well and keep customers happy”. The next weeks schedule had already been printed but suddenly Dan was asking everyone if they want more hours. He added at least two people to every shift. After that we always had enough people scheduled to do our jobs right. Dan now knew what would happen if we were understaffed and he knew the loss of business we could cause him would likely affect his future at the company.

Sadly, we were not able to get Dan removed as a Store Manager, he continues to make our lives a living hell. However, the power we felt that week will not be forgotten. The ties of solidarity amongst those involved in the planning and implementation will be long lasting. We all tasted what it would be like to have control over our jobs and that can never be taken away.

Addendum: Almost exactly a year from his first day at our store, Dan was removed from his position as Store Manager. Of the 21 people who participated in actions to remove him, 7 baristas had transferred, 4 were fired, and 8 quit.

Read Part 1: The Match That Started the Fire.
Read Part 2: The Bat Cave.

Look for The Truth About the Million Dollar Coffee Company by FW Lyssa coming Wednesday May 7th.

FW Sarah
Starbucks Workers Union

Twitter icon Instagram icon Facebook icon Mastodon icon GitHub icon