Starbucks is facing a growing labor movement—some 150 stores have unionized across the US. The ability to collectively bargain for better benefits, like health insurance and paid time off, is one of the main issues organizers are touting. But the benefits that current Starbucks workers do like and widely use? Spotify and mental healthcare, Howard Schultz, the interim CEO of Starbucks, told the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin last week.
These less traditional perks are a way for Starbucks to recruit and retain talent in an industry that largely employs young people. They also come off as so Gen Z, younger workers who dig streaming content and are vocal about mental health.
While Starbucks employees have had access to free Spotify Premium membership since 2015, Starbucks started offering a number of free mental health therapy sessions via a partnership with Lyra Health, a mental health benefits company, in March 2020. The benefit came at a time when the pandemic made it harder to ignore the well-being of low-wage workers who have had to deal with a more unpredictable work environment in the midst of a public health crisis.
The growing labor movement and the perks that Starbucks baristas care about illustrate how younger workers view the workplace differently than previous generations, and more specifically, feel that their current working conditions can be improved on, and should be better suited to their needs.
Starbucks has long positioned itself as a progressive employer in part by offering industry-leading benefits; the coffee chain has offered health insurance to part-time workers since the late 1980s. And yet, the company has countered organizing efforts, saying that it is best positioned to improve working conditions, rather than through collective bargaining. Bloomberg recently reported that baristas said their managers have told them they could lose their transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits if they join a union, suggesting that Starbucks is willing to change to reflect modern workplace demands, but only on its own terms.