From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog: Coffee snobbery

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Coffee snobbery

I'd been sitting on posting about this for a while. I freely admit to being a bit of a coffee snob. For the office, I pick up Costco branded stuff because I can score two pounds for the same price one pound of a cheap store brand variety costs, and the java itself is actually very driankable. When I get an itch to go to a coffee shop, I try to go local though. I very much am behind the Keep Austin Weird campaign, and I love the local coffee shops here in Austin. On a nice day or night like tonight, Mozart's can't be beat for a place to sip a cuppa joe and surf the net or listen to music on the weekends. Flightpath Coffee House (no official website, but a neat picture) also has a lot of charm, if not the best snacks to go with the brew. The Hideout downtown offers coffee, snacks, wireless internet, live music, and even a small cabaret style theater with live improv comedy (their website appears to be gone). So like most everyone who's a coffee drinker and a "commie liberal" as my brother likes to tag me, I ranted and railed over the ubiquitous way there seems to be a Starbucks at every turn. Corporate=evil in the simple math of my mind as far as coffee was concerned.

So you can imagine my cognitive dissonance when Ezra Klein had this post up about Starbucks, linking to this story about what Starbucks has to offer its workers. Made me realize things aren't always so easy:

Starbucks Coffee Co. puts a huge premium on customer service, knowing that when you plunk down a couple of bucks for a cup of coffee, the way you're treated may well determine how eager you are to repeat the experience.

That people-first philosophy extends to Starbucks' 15,000 employees, 12,000 of whom work part time. They're all referred to as "partners" and indoctrinated into the company philosophy from the get-go. New hires attend 24 hours of training before they're put to work--and usually end up liking their jobs. Not because they earn great wages or can get their fill of free espressos and a free pound of coffee a week but because any Starbucks partner, whether full or part time, gets premium perks. Among them: paid vacation and sick leave, subsidized health benefits, stock options and a 401(k) plan. Hardly any other U.S. company is as generous with its part-time workers (See the box on page 50). While many retailers and other firms with large part-time workforces might view the Seattle-based company's efforts as West Coast feel-good philanthropy that's too costly for them, Starbucks has shown that its strategy makes good business sense. The proof of its success is in its annual report in black and white. For the fiscal year ending Oct. 1, 1995, Starbucks had sales of $465 million and earnings of $26 million, or 36 cents a share--up from sales of $248 million and earnings of $10.2 million the prior year. The company has grown from 17 stores in fiscal 1987 to 842 now, and the numbers keep growing.
God forbid, a corporate entity that actually invests in its workforce and sees its profits grow as a result. What will the Enron's of the world think?

Seriously though, look at some of these offerings:

Health benefits are available to anyone who works at least 20 hours a week, with eligibility beginning 90 days after an employee's starting date. Starbucks pays about 75 percent of the premium; staffers pay most of the remaining 25 percent, although the actual amount varies according to salary level. Premiums are based on six eligibility categories: partner only; partner plus child; partner plus children; partner plus spouse or domestic partner; partner plus spouse and child; or partner plus domestic partner and child.

Starbucks extended health benefits to domestic partners of the same sex in 1993 and to unmarried heterosexual couples a year later. No proof of partnership is required; couples simply sign an enrollment form guaranteeing that the information they supply is true. Employees and their dependents are offered a two-tiered managed care plan administered by Aetna, which Starbucks switched to in 1993 when it began to self-insure. The deductibles, co-pays and benefits are the same for all Starbucks employees. About 5,400 U.S. workers and 800 Canadian employees are enrolled, some 15 percent of them with dependents.

The gatekeeper plan has no deductible and a $10 copay for a doctor visit and for a brand-name prescription. Preventive care is fully covered, and 90 percent of inpatient care is covered after the first $100. Out-of-network care has a deductible of $300 for an individual and $900 for family and covers 70 percent of physician fees and prescription costs. The point-of-service option also allows workers to see specialists without a primary care physician's authorization. Those who live out of Aetna's network area--only about 2 percent of Starbucks' insured employees--are served by a more expensive indemnity plan.
The health plan offerings to part time workers is better than I got working for the state of Texas at the Frank Erwin Center. Never mind the domestic partner bennies. And the health plan sounds like it really offers a lot to those who are enrolled in it. I mean you're far less likely to call in sick as a barista at a shitty coffee house if you've got the health benefits to get problems nipped before they become unmanageable. Read the whole thing, it's one hell of an offering for workers.

I'm writing this post from Mozart's now, and I'm happy they got my money today. Bought a bottomless cup of joe, a tart, and a coffee mug because they have some new ones that I really liked. I feel good about them getting my money. But I'm also going to not feel so bad about stopping in at a Starbucks every now and again and getting a latte to go. Big companies that do good things by their employees should be rewarded and encouraged at every opportunity. It's nice to see that it can be done right.