Percolating debate in wake of Seattle's Best expansion

Percolating debate in wake of Seattle's Best expansionHere's a Labor Day Weekend conundrum for you: Starbucks Corp. sent out a press release trumpeting its expansion of Seattle's Best Coffee outlets to 30,000 this week. There were just 3,000 six months ago.

At the same time, Starbucks has been listed as one of the country's biggest dispensers of layoffs during the recession. Daily Finance put the number at 21,316 since December 2007, but the Seattle Times' Melissa Allison, who covers coffee like TMZ tracks Lindsay Lohan, said SEC filings show Starbucks job losses of 32,000 in the U.S. between September 2008 and September 2009 alone.

So pink slips rain like espresso through a torn filter and yet Starbucks sees fit to expand one of its brands. It should be the company's moral imperative to rehire some of those it jettisoned. Somebody is needed to deliver the grind and maintain the brewing machinery at the Subway, Burger King and AMC Theater venues that account for the quick ascent to 30,000. That somebody should be a former employee.

When WalletPop asked the company whether it had rehired any laid-off workers to help multiply Seattle's Best, a Seattle's Best spokeswoman said that while there is crossover between Starbucks and Seattle's Best, she didn't have that information.

Erik Forman, member of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union, told WalletPop he had an accurate count of how many former workers have been rehired to help with Seattle's Best: zilch. Starbucks has "done nothing" to reach out to those it let go across the board, he said. To make matters worse, Starbucks' early-recession layoff victims have now run out of unemployment benefits, creating a large group of desperate folks, he added.

The push to promote Seattle's Best at already-existing venues such as fast-food joints served as a cost-efficient means of branching out without the company having to open stores and hire a lot of help. Michelle Gass, president of Seattle's Best, said the goal is to eventually reach 100,000 or more retailers.

"There have been layoffs all down the supply chain, but instead of spending money in marketing coffee to create jobs, they've
opted to invest in a marketing stream that doesn't create jobs," said Forman, a barista at a Starbucks in the Mall of America.

On the weekend that celebrates our workforce, let's hope that the company's once-proud reputation for treating employees well isn't just a hill of beans.
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