- Starbucks baristas are bracing for the impact of former CEO Howard Schultz running for office, with the potential that aggressive customers will press them on political issues.
- “I have to just put on a big smile and hope to God they don’t press me to comment beyond chuckling and anxiously trying to get to the next customer,” one Starbucks employee told Business Insider.
- Workers have been advised to tell customers that “Howard’s future plans are up to him” if pressed by customers, according to documents obtained by HuffPost.
Starbucks baristas are preparing for controversy as Howard Schultz’s presidential media blitz picks up steam.
Employees at the coffee giant are bracing for questions and disruption on the job thanks to Schultz’s announcement that he is “seriously considering” running for president, three Starbucks in-store employees said in interviews with Business Insider. These employees asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly without jeopardizing their jobs.
“I would expect that because of Schultz’s announcement, many customers will try to talk to us baristas about politics and Schultz while we are working,” one Starbucks worker from Connecticut told Business Insider.
“While I would personally be OK with this, I think it would make many baristas feel uncomfortable,” he continued. “As far as I know, we are not supposed to discuss politics while working, and we could easily be written up for it.”
Starbucks did not respond to Business Insider’s request for clarity on the company’s policies regarding discussing politics with customers. But, whether or not workers could get in trouble, the difficulties of discussing politics without offending customers – all while juggling other tasks at work – can weigh heavily on some Starbucks baristas.
A second worker who has worked at Starbucks for 20 years said that she anticipated questions from the chain’s “highly engaged” customers.
“No matter how they feel about it, these are people expecting you to make political small talk despite the fact that your job is on the line if you say something in response that they disagree with or which upsets them,” said a third employee from California.
He added: “I have to just put on a big smile and hope to God they don’t press me to comment beyond chuckling and anxiously trying to get to the next customer.”
Starbucks is preparing baristas for Schultz 2020
Schultz has pledged to keep Starbucks completely separate from his potential presidential run. However, his time at the company is the cornerstone of his book, “From the Ground Up,” which he is currently promoting over the course of a three-month book tour.
Kevin Johnson, who took over the Starbucks CEO job in Schultz’s footsteps in 2017, sent a letter to all employees on Monday morning, addressing Schultz’s presidential aspirations.
“Many of us will inevitably be asked if the company supports a possible presidential candidacy of Howard and what changes for Starbucks,” the letter reads. “As a company, we don’t get involved in national political campaigns. And nothing changes for Starbucks.”
Starbucks is encouraging workers to “diffuse [sic] the situation” if customers attempt to share aggressive political opinions, according to an internal document obtained by HuffPost.
According to HuffPost, Starbucks’ talking point is: “If asked about Howard’s political intentions: Howard’s future plans are up to him.”
Representatives for Starbucks and Schultz did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on how the former CEO’s candidacy might impact workers.
This is not the first time that Schultz has put Starbucks workers in an uncomfortable situation. While Starbucks is known for its worker benefits, employees have also experienced backlash in response to the company’s efforts to push for progressive change.
In Schultz’s book “From the Ground Up,” he discusses the “Race Together” campaign, in which the company planned to have baristas write “Race Together” on cups to highlight racial inequality. The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.
“The truth is that I threw Starbucks onto the third rail of society in a way that put an unfair burden on baristas and store managers,” Schultz said. “These discussions needed to be had, but not in the way we had them.”
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