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Unionized Starbucks in Victoria shut out of digital tip jar

Some employees believe Starbucks is punishing the unionized Douglas Street location by not giving it a digital-tip option
Sarah Broad, longtime Starbucks worker and a union representative, outside the 3180 Douglas St. location. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When you buy a drink or a cookie at the Starbucks on ­Douglas Street near Mayfair mall and pay with a debit or credit card, there aren’ t any tip options on the card reader.

It’s the only unionized corporate-owned location in B.C. with a contract with the company, and a union representative said the absence of a digital-tip option — a feature that union organizers campaigned for — is no coincidence.

Sarah Broad, a shift supervisor at the store, said employees believe the unionized outlet was intentionally left out as a punitive measure in the coffee giant’s digital-tip rollout in the region a few months ago

The absence is being noticed by Starbucks regulars, Broad said. “We’ve actually been getting remarks almost daily lately.”

Customers can still tip with cash, but many people don’t carry much cash anymore, so the offerings are meagre.

Broad said she made $3 in tips recently for an entire week of shifts.

“Other stores have said that digital tips have really increased their tip-out,” she said.

While store employees are eligible for tips earned from ­purchases made on the ­Starbucks app, the vast ­majority of purchases are made with debit and credit cards.

Broad said the store had new debit machines that accommodate tipping installed a few months ago, when digital-tip options were being rolled out at other corporate-owned stores in the capital region.

But when her union raised the issue of the missing tip option at the Douglas Street store with the company, Starbucks representatives said that they didn’t “have the appetite” to discuss the ­matter, Broad said.

“Our store is the only store that is not receiving any form of digital tips,” she said.

She noted that unionized store employees already make less per hour than non-unionized staff at other corporate locations.

Store employees bargained for a $15.75 starting wage in June 2021 — 55 cents above the then-minimum wage — about a year after they voted to unionize in 2020.

But the company raised ­starting wages to $1 an hour above the minimum wage six months later, with additional six to 10 per cent increases for more long-term employees, at non-unionized locations.

Unionized employees at the Douglas location were left out and now start at $16.75, the current minimum wage in B.C.

“We often do have people who like the job a lot but find a job that pays better,” Broad said. “Starbucks hasn’t been willing to have a conversation with us about it.”

Starbucks barista Hannah Drewry said her non-unionized store in Langford offers a starting wage just above $17. She said she can expect about $50 in digital tips for 30 hours of work.

The United Steelworkers union has filed an unfair labour practice grievance about the wage issue on behalf of Douglas Street branch employees, as Starbucks has not agreed to match wage increases for unionized staff.

Izzy Adachi, a Victoria-based Steelworkers organizer who helps to unionize Starbucks branches across B.C. and Alberta, said Starbucks “gets to take credit for all of the work that the union’s putting in to raise the bar for workers.”

When union workers successfully negotiated a raise, Starbucks ended up giving every other branch a raise as well.

It’s a tactic Starbucks has historically deployed against union efforts, Adachi said. “A lot of Starbucks workers might not be aware that a lot of their benefits come from past unionization efforts.”

The only reason there aren’t digital tips at the Douglas Street location is because Starbucks refuses to do so, Adachi said, adding that there’s nothing in the collective agreement that prevents the implementation of digital tipping or wage increases to unionized workers.

A Starbucks spokesperson declined to answer specific questions about the lack of digital tips at the Douglas Street location, calling it an “active ­filing.”

“Starbucks is committed to being a company that works for everyone. Decisions regarding the Douglas Street store are guided by the collective bargaining agreement with the USW,” the company said in a statement.

In B.C., three other corporate-owned Starbucks stores in the Lower Mainland have unionized and are in the process of negotiating their collective agreements. When the Starbucks at 3180 Douglas St. unionized in June 2021, it kicked off a fresh wave of Starbucks store unionizations across Canada and the U.S.

Unionized U.S. stores are also being left out of the digital-tip rollout, according to reporting from CNN.

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