Meet a 28-year-old Starbucks manager who demoted himself from the job he loves because of a ‘hard time getting management to hear me’

 Fenrir Larsen, a 28-year-old barista at Starbucks, loves coffee. He tells Fortune he “could talk to you about coffee for a long time,” waxing rhapsodic about the way it’s grown (one tree makes just one pound of coffee), the history of the bean, the chemistry of roasting, even the unroasted coffee cherries, or green coffee, that flavors Refreshers with a taste more like juice.

Other things he loves: the company he works for—and its union. 

“I’ve always really enjoyed Starbucks as a company,” he told Fortune, and that’s why he’s “so interested in staying with Starbucks and seeing what it could be with the union effort.” 

Larsen has been a Starbucks employee most of his adult life. He’s worked at different stores in Washington and Reno for nearly nine years and has moved through the ranks from barista to shift manager, assistant store manager and then store manager–but he stepped back down to a shift supervisor to join the union after, he said, “a hard time getting management to hear me.” 

It’s really about Starbucks’ labor model, he explained. The labor model the company uses to schedule employees is sales-based. Each store gets a number of labor hours dependent on its recent sales and seasonal shifts like holidays. The issues that workers are facing include weeks when there aren’t enough labor hours for them to earn enough.

“There’s been a lot of hour cuts across the country,” he said, adding that “maybe the hours will go down next week, but there’s still the same amount of staff.” 

Hour cuts are a big concern

He’s far from alone, as the Starbucks union drive has been making headlines for years now. Recently, on February 20, workers at 21 stores across the country filed petitions nearly simultaneously with the National Labor Relations Board to join Starbucks Workers United, the company’s union group under Workers United, marking the union campaign’s biggest single-day filing since its launch in 2021. 

The workers, or “partners,” as Starbucks calls them, joined nearly 400 other unionized stores that are demanding recognition along with predictable schedules (without spontaneous hour cuts that workers are seeing now), raises that reflect the cost of living, and timely repairs of broken equipment. 

Another barista, Juniper Krone, told Fortune that hour cuts are a big concern for workers at her store, which is based in Longmont, Colorado, too. 

Krone used to rely on 30 hours of work a week, and now considers getting 24 or 25 a “good week.” 

“We haven’t been getting enough hours to run the store effectively and give our customers good service,” Krone said, adding that a lot of individuals aren’t getting enough hours to support themselves, either. Krone, who has worked at Starbucks since 2022, said the hour cuts make it hard for her to afford her $1,600 single bedroom rent. 

The current scheduling system, the workers said, causes situations where sometimes there are too many workers and other times, not enough. “This problem has been going on for at least a year and it’s steadily getting worse,” Krone said. 

Beyond that, the schedules are based on sales a store made three weeks prior, according to Starbucks, which leads to delayed assessments of a store’s actual needs. Larsen described how “if there was a holiday where there was a lot more or less business,” the schedule, released three weeks later, would reflect the labor needs for that period.

When reached for comment, Starbucks said its scheduling practices aim to match workers’ availability and preferred hours to the changing needs of a store. For instance, a company spokesperson told Fortune, winter months are slower periods than summer, fall and holidays. 

Starbucks also said it offers workers access to an online system called Shift Marketplace where workers can view and pick up additional shifts at neighboring stores. On a Starbucks thread on Reddit, though, users complained that neighboring stores had no shifts to pick up and that additional shifts aren’t available to view if they were already scheduled for five days.

Greater presence means much-needed repairs

Larsen and Krone also said that since their stores filed petitions to unionize, there has been more corporate management presence. For Larsen’s store, the increased presence meant broken equipment got some much-needed attention. 

“My store specifically gets really behind on broken machines and they build up,” he said. “Since filing to unionize, our management team has been working hard to fix everything really fast.” 

Krone said her store has an increasing problem with drug use in the restrooms and has been asking management to install sharps containers in bathrooms. “They tell us we don’t have a high enough incident rate to install them,” Krone said, and worries about workers accidentally getting injured. 

Starbucks said that it employs a number of safety mitigation efforts, like adding lighting, removing cafe seating, and installing sharps containers, based on need, but said there’s no minimum number of incident reports it uses to determine a store’s need.  

The stores’ employees have also been hearing more interest in the union from customers–some of whom are curious about what’s going on and some who express wanting to support a unionized store. 

“We got a call the other day from a railroad worker who said he’s been union for 30 years,” Larsen said, “and he was just really excited for us to unionize and that we should reach out if we needed any support.” 

Each store that now joins the union reached out to Workers United individually, Krone said, which led the group to organize a mass filing date. At her store, workers had after-hours conversations about joining the union before holding an election. 

It was a similar process at Larsen’s store, where baristas and store supervisors created group chats and organized zoom meetings to have conversations. Aside from a great chance to see his co-workers’ cats, he said, they were often “discussions about what kind of challenges workers are facing.” 

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