- Retail workers are leaving the industry as job openings give them greater leverage.
- Some workers say demanding customers aren’t worth the low pay of the service industry.
- Some former retail employees are turning to warehouse and other kinds of jobs.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Some workers are leaving retail and restaurant jobs to get away from low pay and difficult customers, and a growing number of openings in the labor market is making it easier to transition to new careers.
Restaurants and stores are looking to staff up and return to normal as COVID-19 restrictions lift and the country slowly reopens. Hiring has been difficult for many companies, which have reported a lack of candidates for open positions. But retail and restuarants are are also struggling to retain workers who want to leave for new opportunities. That’s making the sector’s labor crunch even worse.
Nearly a dozen Starbucks workers across the US told Insider about issues keeping locations staffed amid a shortage of applicants and as many current employees look for other jobs.
For those who are left, benefits keep them tied to the job as they look for something better. A shift supervisor at an Atlanta Starbucks told Insider that after two years in the position she felt “tied to the job with golden handcuffs,” because she relied on the company-provided insurance. “I hate it here, but I’m stuck because I need doctors,” she said.
The labor shortage in many sectors of the economy is a boon to some dissatisfied retail workers who are suddenly able to shop around for new jobs. Now, the Starbucks manager says she is about to start a job in healthcare sales making double her current wage. She will also get better benefits.
“It took me a literal day to find a better job,” she said.
The final straw for leaving the job, she said, was realizing how her pay compared to the increasingly pricey drinks Starbucks sells. “The thing that really radicalized me was that our starting wage ($9) is less than one average customer’s ticket,” she told Insider.
“Our 200,000 partners across the U.S. are the best people in the business, and their experiences are key to helping us make Starbucks a meaningful and inspiring place to work” a Starbucks spokesperson told Insider. The chain confirmed that 30% of US partner make $15 or more per hour, with plans to extend that to all US partners in three years.
Another Starbucks employee said after a dangerous and difficult year because of the pandemic, fatigue and treatment are top concerns. “Employees have been fired or people are quitting because we’re so overworked and stressed and abused,” an employee at a Midwest Starbucks told Insider.
A Louisiana barista echoed the same complaints. The “handful [of customers] that you get each day who will berate or abuse you can take a drastic toll on your mental well being,” he told Insider.
Some workers who were furloughed or laid off early in the pandemic may never return to fast food and customer service work. In April, food services and drinking places added 187,000 jobs, and the industry is still 13.5% below its pre-pandemic employment level from February 2020.
The past year has exposed the massive demands put on retail workers, often for relatively low pay and few benefits, even as they were called heroes and essential workers. Tasked with enforcing mask mandates and interacting with customers during the height of a pandemic, abuse, harassment, and assault was not uncommon. A Service Employees International Union survey of 4,187 McDonald’s workers in the summer of 2020 found that nearly half of respondents said that they had been physically or verbally assaulted.
Retail workers interacting with hundreds of customers per day were more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus and often lacked paid leave time. Researchers said that workers who faced the greatest risk of contracting the disease were those who spent “the most direct contact” with other people, like cashiers.
“You couldn’t pay me $20 an hour to work in food for the conditions we had to endure there,” said Chris Drown, a former Chipotle manager. New hires quickly quit over low pay that wasn’t worth the stress, Kate Taylor reported for Insider.
In place of customer-facing retail jobs, some workers are turning to warehouse employment with companies like Amazon, even as those jobs make headlines for poor conditions. The e-commerce giant has hired about 2,800 people a day since July, mostly in warehouse roles.
“We are tired, we are worn out, and people are not nice to us,” Erika, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Ohio, told Insider.
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