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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
State Street Starbucks

Starbucks workers fight for sharp object containers, citing safety concerns

Starbucks on State Street signed a petition last week to receive sharp object containers in the store to safely dispose of needles that threaten the safety of workers and customers.

Starbucks workers on State Street pressed upper management for sharp container boxes after finding needles throughout their store over the past several years. 

Shift supervisor Matthew Cartwright and 31 other employees signed a petition on Sept. 28 demanding a safe option for needle disposal within the store. The store gave Starbucks a deadline of Oct. 13 for the change to be implemented, and Cartwright said the company responded by confirming sharp objects containers would be implemented in the store. 

“We know Starbucks is very slow moving, and they also are not really favorable to unionized workers,” Cartwright said. “Whether they actually will follow through or not I’m not sure.”

Starbucks offered employees various claims when it came to the status of the sharp object containers. Explanations varied — the company said sharps boxes were ordered last month and then said they ordered months ago before saying they were backordered, according to Cartwright. 

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull told The Daily Cardinal local leadership placed an order for sharp containers well before the petition had been submitted. 

Cartwright said at no time during this process had management communicated this to the store, including when they submitted the petition last Thursday. 

Sharp objects pose a threat to workers, customers

Allie Kerr, a barista who has worked at the store for eight years, said she has found used needles and broken glass in both the bathroom and cafe over half a dozen times. 

A maintenance team was called at least five times to clean out toilets clogged with needles, Kerr added.

“I imagine folks dispose of them in our store because they aren't sure what to do with them to dispose of them safely,” she said. “These are not the risks that someone signs up for when they take a job making coffee.”

Used needles pose a threat to both workers and customers. They could carry bloodborne pathogens, and some needles have been used to inject drugs, Cartwright said. 

“If you end up getting hurt by one of them, you're not only risking those bloodborne pathogens, but you're also risking being subjected to whatever drug that was being used for,” he said.

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In the past, workers had to call ambulances for people who overdosed in the store, Kerr said. 

“We have asked for sharps containers dozens of times during my tenure,” she said. “At no point had our requests resulted in any kind of concrete action. One of my former coworkers had asked upper management directly about this matter and was treated very disrespectfully in response.”

Trull ensured Starbucks worked with deep care and urgency to take action against this issue. 

“We work hard to support the success of our stores by equipping our partners with de-escalation and safety simulation training and by pursuing available mitigations to help maintain a welcoming and safe environment,” Trull said. 

Cartwright said a local organization stopped by the store on Tuesday with free sharp boxes, fentanyl test strips, Narcan, Narcan guides and safety information. Narcan is a common medication used to treat overdoses.

“We gladly accepted, but when our store manager reached out to our district manager, we were forbidden from keeping them,” Cartwright said. 

‘They have to be angry’

Starbucks workers went on strike on Sept. 7 after employees said upper management drastically cut the number of new workers at the State Street location before the start of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a time when the store brings on additional employees to meet higher demand. 

While the number of employees has improved, Cartwright said it was a clear union busting attempt following the store’s unionization on June 1. 

The State Street location also went on strike in June after workers said the management removed the store’s Pride Month decorations.

“The Starbucks spokesman told local and national press that they never did this,” Cartwright said. “Right when it happened in front of our own eyes, like they think we're stupid.” 

Trull said Starbucks management is dedicated to ensure the happiness and safety of all workers and customers.

“We are committed to ensuring our partners feel safe and supported at work so they can focus on providing our customers the warm, welcoming Starbucks experience they’ve come to love and expect,” Trull said. “We routinely review the partner and customer experience in our stores to ensure the store is thriving, partners feel supported and we are meeting customer needs.”

However, Cartwright said employees are tired of the treatment from upper management and hope the promise of sharp object containers will be fulfilled, despite their frustrations with the company after the store’s strikes and unionization.

“They've never been particularly friendly to their workers or especially their unionized workers,” Cartwright said. “I'm going to try and give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Kerr believes management is treating the problem more seriously due to media attention. 

“I believe we're on a positive trajectory, especially if upper management follows through on the promises regarding our safety,” Kerr said. 

Cartwright said Starbucks workers should continue to push the company to provide better treatment of its employees. 

“I think that's exactly what people have to feel: they have to be angry about this. It affects everyone,” he said. “Starbucks winning a contract is good for its workers and its customers, but it's also good for every worker in the country.”

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Marin Rosen

Marin Rosen is the City News Editor at The Daily Cardinal and a second-year journalism student. Throughout her time at the Cardinal, she's written articles for city and state news. Follow her on Twitter at @marin_rosen

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