Starbucks Demonstrates Why Corporate Self-Policing Is Not the Best Policy

The best-laid plans of mermaids and men often go awry.

The best-laid plans of mermaids and men often go awry.

Back in April, I wrote on this blog about the problem with clopening shifts, which are fast becoming a normal state of affairs with minimum wage workers. (Clopening shifts, if you were unaware, are when employees work a late-night shift and then an opening shift one after the other.) I noted with approval that “Under pressure from outside sources, Starbucks agreed to self-police their clopening problem.” But I warned that other businesses would need to have regulations imposed in order to ensure that they weren’t unfairly dominating their workers’ schedules.

This month, the New York Times reports, Starbucks’s self-policing is not going well:

Starbucks has fallen short on these promises, according to interviews with five current or recent workers at several locations across the country. Most complained that they often receive their schedules one week or less in advance, and that the schedules vary substantially every few weeks. Two said their stores still practiced clopenings.

Do I think that Starbucks intentionally lied last year when they said they would instate their own schedule fairness? Absolutely not. But I also think the difference between a corporate promise and the day-to-day operations of a cafe is quite substantial. Without the threat of a financial penalty or legal actions, management likely either didn’t absorb the importance of the clopening ban or they sacrificed it as soon as scheduling got tight.

Conservatives argue often and loudly against the idea of regulations, but this is a perfect counterexample to their arguments. We need regulations not because corporations are evil entities that need to be managed by government, it’s because the institutionalization of these laws better combat the creep of wishy-washiness that occurs through self-policing, and because penalties are often a more persuasive tool than praise.

If the Starbucks stores in question were violating anti-clopening laws, those aggrieved employees would be eligible for compensation for the time that they put in. As it is, because of the wonder of self-policing, Starbucks owes them nothing—not even an apology. In a world where corporations are expected to behave out of the kindness of their hearts, corporations suffer absolutely no repercussions for misbehavior. This is why we need to make clopening and other tactics of institutionalized scheduling abuse illegal.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.