Blog: Starbucks' brewing controversy over 'tip jars'

9:02 PM, May 28, 2013   |    comments
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Has it really come to this? Coffee wars that have nothing whatsoever to do with coffee? Juan Valdez must be spinning in his grave.

And after spending an inordinate amount of money for a cup of Starbucks coffee, it's not unreasonable that your genorosity should extend to the friendly baristas behind the counter.

I notice that lots of people leave tips, mostly those who pay with cash as opposed to a credit card or smartphone app. I do pay attention to such things.

But where is your "tip" really going? Well, you might be surprised. I know I was.

In an effort to give complete disclosure, I am a regular Starbucks customer in Chagrin Falls, Solon and in downtown Cleveland but I don't drink coffee -- it's a venti mocha frappuccino for me and I do leave a tip most of the time.

But I digress.

It seems the top court in New York has a case before it right now in a brewing battle -- definitely not decaf-fueled -- to see if shift supervisors and assistant managers can dip into the tip jars.

Really? At first I thought it was just a mini-maelstrom swirling in a latte but apparently, I was wrong. It has much wider implications.

Seems a federal court has asked the appeals court to interpret New York's labor law and the definition of an employer's "agent," who is prohibited from tip-sharing.

Translation? Agents are considered to be management in most cases.

Hello, here come the lawyers. Wonder if they stop at Dunkin' Donuts first, just to be careful? I mean, I have it on good authority that Dunkin' Donuts coffee is very good coffee and it's an opinion I trust.

Seems the bottom-of-the-rung employees -- baristas -- share the tips based on the number of hours they work each week.

In the middle are each of the shift supervisors -- still considered management, to a degree -- but they pitch in and serve customers during busy times and also get a piece of the moolah in the tip jars.

Then we have assistant managers who don't get a cut of the proverbial pie, so to speak, and want some.

You'd think it would be simply a matter of share and share alike but no.

The lawyers are arguing over the New York definition of a company "agent" who, by law, must keep his or her hands out of the, tip jar.

In reading the case, it seems the hospitality industry groups say the state court decision will affect others well beyond Starbucks and affect 42,000 New York businesses statewide and a quarter-million hospitality industry workers in New York City alone.

Wow. All over who gets a tip for a cup of coffee. They ought to care more about the muffins than mayhem. I mean, Starbucks should stock more of the banana chocolate chip coffee cake.

But I do see the point.

Tips are the life-blood of lower paid employees anywhere and further sharing of the "pot" means less for everyone. There are likely a million workers across the state who will be affected.

Just like the little guy who is being affected by the sequester with furlough days, it's the ones that make the least that get hurt the most. That's just the way it is.


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