Last week, I declared today Fuck Wall Street Day in my household. However, I’ve decided to “downsize” my anger and aim at just one corporation that has earned my wrath and lost my business: Starbucks.
The reason: they fired my son-in-law.
Now a lot of people get fired every day, and a number of them deserve it. I know many people for whom, if I were told they had been fired, I could not even feign shock.
This is not the case with my son-in-law Dan. If I were to design an ideal son-in-law, it would be him. I would trust him with my life. He is highly intelligent, bilingual (an important asset in our county), patient, even-tempered and unfailingly polite. He is extremely presentable – no tattoos or nose rings. He is the very definition of diligent and responsible. In all the time I’ve known him – and I’ve known him about seven years – I’ve never heard him say “no” to any request.
Dan had been working for Starbucks since he started dating my daughter in high school, even transferring to a branch in Boston while my daughter attended school there. A couple of years ago, he decided to delay continuing his education when he was offered an assistant manager’s job at an outlet in a hoity-toity Westchester town. The pay was pretty good, as were the benefits.
In those seven years, he had called in sick a total of three days, from a bout of flu a few years ago. Many times he would come in early in the morning to open the store after staying late to close it the previous night, never complaining. He was always willing to come in and cover someone else’s shift if necessary.
Unless there is some part of the story I do not know – which I concede is possible – he was fired because he was late for work three times this year. For the whole year. Starbucks has a system of written warnings – three in a period of time results in termination. Dan thought the warning counter reset every few months; either he was wrong or they changed the rule.
The first time he was late was in January when he had a car accident on the way to work, and the second time was the next month during a snowstorm. The third time occurred a few weeks ago, when he was told to work less hours because the company would not pay any more overtime, so on a day when he was only going to perform paperwork, he came in 30 minutes late in order not to exceed the hour limit. This prompted his third written warning for lateness and he was shocked to learn he was terminated. An appeal to upper management was rejected.
Even if you accept the idea of a stupid rule applied inflexibly, there is one part of the story for which I can never forgive Starbucks: whatever the company reported about his termination made him ineligible to collect unemployment. Dan can fight it, of course – if he hires a lawyer, which he cannot afford.
I don’t know the reasoning behind their lack of loyalty to a dependable seven-year employee. I do know that, no matter what a corporation’s public image, loyalty there is almost always a one-way street. Employees are merely interchangeable parts, to be exchanged or discarded at the corporation’s whim.
My perception is that Starbucks has oversaturated my county with outlets and Dan believes they may be trying to cut back on labor expenses. The decision to terminate was made a few steps up the management chain.
Which raises a concern I have had for quite a while: corporations are so big and so spread out that they really don’t have a feel for what goes on at the local level. I know that at the bank where I worked for 23 years, we would receive directives from upper management that indicated cluelessness about we did in our office. In Caitlin Kelly’s book Malled, about her experience working at a North Face retail outlet, she wrote about several instances of middle management making an appearance at her store, complaining about petty, irrelevant things and issuing directives that were not only inane, but counterproductive to increasing sales and improving customer service.
At my wife’s company, which was bought a year ago by a corporation I won’t name, but whose name begins and ends with the letter x, a recent reshuffling has resulted in a new manager, someone several states away who seems to have no concept of what her department does, but also seems anxious to assert his authority
Since I posted about her workplace a few months ago, my wife has undergone two surgeries, resulting in several weeks of medical leave. Because the company had declined to replace two people in her department who had left – a decision made by upper management - there was nobody to handle problems or perform enhancements while she was out of the office, bringing work to a virtual standstill. There are rumors that their biggest client is not going to renew its contract.
In mid-July, all employees in her company received an email informing them that each of them would have to take one week off without pay before the end of 2011 in order to cut expenses. That very same day, the parent corporation announced a large increase in profits for the previous quarter.
Dan quickly found another job, but in a story that will sound familiar to many Americans in this flatlining economy, it is one at much lower pay and no benefits. Which means that he and my daughter no longer have health coverage.
Here’s the really sad thing: in some ways, he’s relieved to have been fired. For one thing, he can resume his education. For another, he no longer feels stress. Many times, Dan came home from work around 11 p.m. after closing the store and would have to awaken by 5 a.m. in order to open the store. This disrupted sleep schedule is certainly not healthy and may have been a contributing factor to his stress. Now he’s able to get a comfortable, consistent full-night sleep for the first time in years. We’ll see if the stress stays away when the bills start going past due.
This is personal. Dan may be merely a number to Starbucks, but he is family to me. There are a number of local, independent coffee houses in my neck of the woods. They will be getting my business from now on.