An old coworker of mine just posted something on Facebook about how she doesn’t like Starbucks anymore, even though she’s still there. That took me back three years ago, when that company fired me, and I left her a comment reminding her that there’s a bigger, better world outside of elite coffee conglomerates. I’m not sure it’s something I ever publically wrote about. I’m sure I did, non-directly, but watched what I said due to fear of being punished for it… even after I’d lost my job. But I realized a long time ago how silly that is.

I still hold a small grudge against Starbucks. Obviously my life has taken a much better turn since then, from thinking I’d never find a good job to actually landing a much better job than I could have ever anticipated… but at the time I felt a break in my self-confidence over it. It amazes me that they can suck people in the way they do and turn them into androids who act as cheerleaders for their company, but who they don’t treat with dignity and appreciation, and just toss away when they feel like it. They pretend to value you, and they have you convinced that you’re so privileged to be working for them, when at the end of the day it’s just a glorified coffee shop with the same bullshit to deal with as any other establishment in the food service industry, except worse because you’re dealing with an elitist clientele. They want you to be yourself and express yourself, but they tell you how to do it. You have to be outgoing and happy all the time. You have to force yourself to make trite conversation with stuck-up snobs who think they’re better than you because they have so much money and free time on their hands that they’ll order a $7 drink with 6 different specifications three times a day, and you’re supposed to feel like you’re part of their world because you serve them. On the days when they remind you of what a peon you are, you’re still supposed to kiss their ass and give “legendary” service. Retail in general, I suppose… but Starbucks is actually pretty phony about it.

And let’s talk about expressing yourself… you’re not supposed to have visible tattoos or piercings, and if you do, you have to take them out or cover yourself up. Hey, I work with food where food safety practices are vigorously met… and piercings do not intrude on that. I’ve never been told I had to take out my nose ring, or my EARRINGS. And what the hell do tattoos have to do with anything? You can’t show your tattoos, but they have no bearing on food safety codes of practice. Starbucks is just being politically correct and wiping away this “valued” individualism that they pride themselves on, when they insist you cover up anything that remotely makes you an individual. If customers are offended or turned off by tattoos, they probably shouldn’t leave the house. Why are we responsible for their emotional fragility?

I got fired because I voided a cup of coffee off the screen after I handed a drink out and forgot to get the customer to pay for it first. Granted, I was a shift supervisor and probably should have realized I had to mention the voided order to the assistant manager, but it was an error that could easily be made by anybody. It slipped my mind because we were in the middle of a drive-thru rush and I got distracted by the complications this missed order caused, which I was trying to quickly fix because I had other orders to take care of. The technicality I got nailed on was that I voided the order without telling the manager or manager trainee, who wasted no time in tattle-taling to the boss about it within minutes of it happening, giving me virtually no chance to say anything anyway. In their opinion, I stole from the company by doing so. Most people who “steal from the company” don’t get fired over a $4 cup of coffee. They get fired because they took products home without permission, or which exceeded their weekly allowance, or they mishandle the money in the safe, or they don’t properly track inventory and then things go missing which can’t be accounted for… or they take money from the store because the company owes them but hasn’t given it to them. You know, typically pretty big security breaches. But a cup of coffee? That’s not a plausible cause to take someone’s job away from them. That has personal vendetta written all over it.

You can always tell when someone isn’t fond of you, and as far as I was concerned, my manager was terrible at hiding it. I transferred to her store the summer I was interning at the newspaper, and from the get-go we never really hit it off. I expressed that I wanted to become a supervisor, and was willing to take whatever steps necessary in achieving that. She was all for it and gave me all the materials I needed, BUT… she was under the impression that I would take a position in another store. She had already successfully gotten one of the other shifts she didn’t like to transfer, so she had all her bets placed that I’d go too. She consistently tried pushing me towards other locations that had supervisor positions available, even though the ones with openings were farther away from my house than the one I was already working at, and 10x busier. Regardless, I went for an interview at one of the other stores, got told I wasn’t prepared for the position, and was sent back to my store to continue doing what I was doing as a barista. I would think that the appropriate thing to do is take a supervisor who’s already trained and knows the job and send them to the other, busier store, and let me train in a lower-key environment that will ease me into the job. Nope, some of the shifts who could have been sent were kept exactly where they were, who coincidentally were her favoured ones. I know that because she said out loud in front of us that certain ones weren’t “allowed” to leave, but I was? What else could that possibly be saying?

Well, I did get promoted eventually, but stated that I had no intentions of leaving my current location because it wasn’t feasible for me. Not surprisingly, my store ended up with a surplus of shift supervisors and she became increasingly more irritable with me, probably because things didn’t go according to her plan. I guess it didn’t help that the team as a whole wasn’t performing to their best because sales were down… so when you have a district manager on your case over low sales and an over-abundance of staff, it becomes pretty easy to target people to save your own ass. She never had an attitude with anyone else; only me. Not only was I not getting any recognition for anything I did (or tried to do), I was getting less hours than the other supervisors. You can’t live on 24 hours a week. Somehow she thought it fair to give more hours to the 18-year-old supervisor still living with her parents, when I was living on my own with a lot of bills to pay.

I had forgotten about this until now, but as I was reading through this entry I felt compelled to include it. Just before I got the boot, we had been training a woman who was to be opening a Starbucks in my hometown – the first to be opened in my hometown. I was the one training her and her new baristas on the bar, showing them how to make all the drinks. Really nice ladies – in fact I still see a few of them once in a while when I go in to Starbucks here to get a coffee and they turn to the newer baristas I never had the pleasure of working with and say, “This girl was a rockstar on the bar. She used to do fancy flips and everything!” (it’s flattering haha). Anyway, after I had put in the time and enthusiasm about training people from my hometown, we find out that a few people from our store were going to be selected to go to my hometown on opening week and help them prepare for the big day, and help out ON the big day. I had been led to believe I’d be one of them. It’d make sense, because I’m from there… I could identify with the new clientele, I know the town, and I could go spend a few days with my family… which would have been nice, because I didn’t have the money to go back home all that often. But they left me out and sent everyone else. If that’s not a very clear and sharp smack in the face, I don’t know what you’d call it. It certainly wasn’t fair, I know that much. I struggled putting on my nice face after that, because it was such a disappointment to me. I had really been looking forward to it and was probably more pumped about it than anyone else, because it was my hometown.

She never acknowledged anything I did, unless it was something she didn’t like. At both locations I worked at, I got to know my customers by name and I always went all out for them. One couple wrote in to corporate head office about me and how great I was, and when my manager sat down with us at a meeting and pulled out the letter and read it to us, all she had to say about it was that I shouldn’t have given out my name to customers. She didn’t make one positive remark about the content of the letter. Now what’s that saying?

All of a sudden I started getting written up for stupid little things. You can’t have more than three write-ups in your entire career with the company, or else you’ll get fired. Within two weeks I’d been given two. All she needed was something else to nail me on, so when I forgot to inform the manager of my voided transaction, BINGO! Time’s up. She sat me down, took away my keys and told me I would be suspended while an internal investigation was launched against me. She told me I had a “laissez-faire” attitude about my job, because she was so much better than me with her university degree that she had to make her point in French to prove how intelligent she was, because it somehow elevated her authority over me, or at least she thought so. Or maybe she was trying to validate her life working as a slave to the elitist upper class. As I walked out the store that day she shouted to me in a sarcastic, overly happy tone to “have a great day” without so much as looking up at me. Two weeks later I still hadn’t heard anything. I had to call corporate head office to make her get in touch with me. Then she had her assistant call me to set up an appointment at another location, where both the manager and her trainee who called me out sat and gave me the pink papers outlining my termination, and belittled me in the lobby of a store full of customers. During this tirade she had the gaul to tell me she “went to bat for me.” No, sweetheart… you took a bat to me. Not the same thing.

She informed me I wasn’t entitled to separation pay, even though I had been there for over two years, and even though the internal investigation brought up nothing (a detail she left out until I asked her about it). Shocking, I know, that my free coffee scandal hadn’t turned up anything the likes of a bank robber. She even threw it in my face that I could go ahead and call the office, egging me on by saying, “In fact, they’re waiting for your call.” I’d say they were, because they lost their case against me with the Board of Labour and I did end up getting my separation pay, which I was entitled to. So if I’m a thief, what does that make her?

I say I still hold a small grudge against Starbucks, simply because of the management in my district that I had to deal with. It’s not so much the company I had a problem with, as it was this particular group of managers. The company’s reputation is more comprised of the employees than the corporate side… the baristas are what make that place what it is. A lot of the values they teach you with regards to customer service are great, and I carried them with me to my other jobs. But at the same time, these stories seem to pop up all over the place with Starbucks, so why they let such bad judgment determine someone’s employment status, is really a battle they need to rethink picking. I’m sure they lose hundreds of awesome employees in the same manner – hard-working, dedicated people who get nailed on stupid, micro-managed technicalities by store managers who are let too far off the leash by head office. If they took those people, the real jewels of the breed, and put them in management, so many of these problems would be eradicated. The fact that they go above and beyond, tooting the green siren, for under $12 an hour is a miracle that Starbucks should be thankful for. How they pull the wool over so many people’s eyes, I’m not sure. But I had that same naivety when I was there, and I’m glad they fired me because I probably never would have found my dream job and I wouldn’t have realized how ignorant I was, and how wrong it was to spend all that time and effort supporting a company that didn’t give a damn about me. It sure taught me a lot about corporations and why so many people rally against them… and why UNIONS are actually not such a dodgy idea when you think of it from an employee’s point of view. Of course unions have their really bad sides as well.

And now I’ve found a job that pays me well, that supports me, that pushes me to greater heights, and which lets me know that I’m important to them and that they want and need me around. That’s all any employee really wants. And the ones who work hard and make next to nothing need it more than I do. I try to be humble about the great opportunities I’ve been given in the last year and a half, because I realize I’m lucky. I’m very thankful for it all, and I make every opportunity to let them know that. And I feel good about being dedicated and excited to work where I do, because they give me the inspiration and respect that make it all worthwhile. But what a difference it makes when your job reciprocates back to you what you put out. No job is perfect, but… to the woman who tried to tear me down just because she didn’t understand me… I truly hope she feels fulfilled where she is, because I don’t know how anyone could be that sour of a person and wake up every day feeling ok about it. I don’t wish ill on her, but I do hope she learned a thing or two about how to be a better manager.

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