Yesterday the New York Times ran a story that examined Starbucks’ attempts to rectify the difficult working conditions uncovered by an earlier Times investigation, which profiled Starbucks employees who were forced to do “clopenings” (staying late to close stores only to have to rise at the crack of dawn to open them again) and who were given very short notice of work schedules and schedule changes.
The latest piece reports that the Seattle-based coffee chain seems to be falling short in changing these practices, which it had promised to do in the wake of the earlier report. What I find notable is that the story cites a report by the Center for Popular Democracy, which had reached out to Starbucks baristas via a website called Coworker.org.
You’ve no doubt heard of the employer reviews posted by workers on Glassdoor and Simply Hired, in which employees can grouse about the managers and working conditions at their company. Coworker.org, which was founded in 2013, lets disgruntled workers take things a step further by organizing campaigns to address those complaints. It’s similar to Change.org, which lets users launch campaigns to attract supporters for their cause.
Recent campaigns launched on Coworker.org include an effort to push Netflix to add its hourly DVD workers to its recently announced unlimited-leave policy for new parents (it’s garnered almost 8,000 signatures of support so far), a petition for US Bank to rehire a whistleblowing employee (about 6,400 signatures) and to push Starbucks to do away with clopenings (about 10,500 signatures). Other campaigns seem to have a more millennial vibe (let supermarket employees wear beards, restaurant employees show their tattoos).
Coworker.org is funded via the Citizen Engagement Laboratory, a liberal foundation based in Berkeley that’s been the target of ire from conservative news sites such as Breitbart News. Its co-founders are Michelle Miller (whose experience includes a decade at the Service Employees International Union) and Jess Kutch, whose experience also includes a stint at the SEIU (notice a theme there?).
Regardless of its affiliations, Coworker.org represents just one of a growing number of platforms for employees to sound off about mistreatment (real or perceived) and unfair labor practices — and for companies to find themselves the target of negative, and possibly viral, publicity.