Starbucks Baristas Lose Battle To Keep Tips

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Across the country, waitstaff have cried foul over tip pools, claiming their employers are unfairly divvying out their hard-earned tips. A group of Starbucks baristas in New York tried to make that case, but on Wednesday, in a potential blow for many in New York's army of food service workers, the state's highest court sided with the coffee chain.

The baristas argued that their shift supervisors, as managers, should keep their fingers out of the tip jar. But the New York Court of Appeals disagreed, issuing guidelines that the work of shift supervisors was similar enough to the work of servers to qualify them for a share of the tips, even if they had some supervisory authority. The case has been knocked back to the Second Circuit for the final ruling.

Despite consistently being among Fortune's Best Companies To Work For, Starbucks pays baristas an average of $8.80 an hour, and shift supervisors earn about $11 an hour, according to State laws usually ban managers from sharing in tips, but Starbucks has been hit with multiple lawsuits because of the murkiness of its shift supervisor position. On the one hand, shift supervisors are part-time, hourly employees, who serve customers and have no hiring or firing authority. On the other hand, they oversee and instruct baristas. They straddle two worlds, and the law has a tough time with straddlers.

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Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney who represented the baristas, believes that Starbucks is exploiting this ambiguity in order to offset supervisors' wages with tips.

"It's a fight about who will pay part of the supervisors' wages," says Liss-Riordan. "Will it be Starbucks, which has a lot of money? Or will it be baristas, the lowest-level employee, where every penny of their tips is an important part of their wages?"

After Liss-Riordan won a similar case in Massachusetts last year, disqualifying shift supervisors' from tips, Starbucks increased their starting wage from $11 to $13.89 an hour, according to a labor group, The Industrial Workers of the World Starbucks.

A San Diego judge sided with the baristas in a similar suit in 2008, ordering Starbucks to pay back more than $100 million in tips to coffee servers. But the following year, Starbucks won on appeal, with the court concluding that the supervisors "essentially perform the same job as baristas."

A group of Starbucks assistant managers in New York also sued, wanting in on the tips. The New York court seemed unconvinced on that point, ultimately stating that a person should be disqualified from tips if they have "meaningful or significant authority over subordinates."

For tens of thousands of restaurant workers across the state, that's still a venti-size serving of vague.

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I felt the need to say that the shift supervisor job is essentially what a barista is, it is a fancy title that says here now you are in charge of opening/closing the store, the money, ensuring everyone has breaks, and managing labor, in addition to being a barista. Shift is easily twice as much work and the pay raise is one dollar more an hour. I'd also like to add that starting pay at Starbucks is 7.50 with a 30 cent raise (the max) every 6 months although it is normally more like 20 cents, and the glass ceiling website factors in the tips as salary. I've been working at Starbucks for almost 3 years and as a shift I make 9.22 without tips and not going to lie I am a great employee and I do deserve more.

May 17 2014 at 1:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry Hively

Funny how those on the low end of the wage scale don't believe in income redistribution when it's their perceived income/money...only when it is someone else's coming their way.

July 01 2013 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tipping an establishment such as Starbucks is unacceptable. Those tip cups/jars seem to pop up in many establishments. We are going to tip you because you did the job you were hired for?? Let us not forget, that Starbucks offers benefits to those who work a minimum of 20 hours. That is a great intensive in today's economy. Wait staff being tipped in restaurants is part of the income. They are also taxed on the sales. Lot more entailed in waiting tables, as opposed to asking if you need room for cream. Seems we glorify working for minimum wage. If you want tips, you should wait tables.

July 01 2013 at 1:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Quit your griping and don't go to these places..nobody forcesyou to leave a tip...get a life !!!

July 01 2013 at 12:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The idea of tip jars has exploded to the point that anyone who checks you out anywhere expects a tip. I tip generously, but a tip jar next to my coffee purchase (not necessarily Starbucks), turns me off. I do, however, drop money in it if the person did a good job. I prefer to give my money directly to the person who did the job, but that seems to be difficult. I don't want to share with someone who may not deserve it! And, overall, I don't think tips for walk up, self-service establishments are warranted.

July 01 2013 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I usually tip at a restaurant, but from what I know about Starbucks, it is an over-the-counter establishment, more or less like a Mickey D's (except they're OUTRAGEOUSLY overpriced). Is a "barista" a skilled trade? if you're going to give someone a fancy job title, then it's on the owner to supply a decent wage to the "skilled laboror", not me.

July 01 2013 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Just one more reason not to go to Starbucks.

July 01 2013 at 10:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sadiemae1214's comment

Have never been to one yet.

July 01 2013 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whoever started this whole thing is about to get a huge wake-up call for their greed when every restaurant in the state, maybe, eventually the country ends up with tipped workers having to share their money with people who don't do any work. They had a program in my city several years ago where leftover food from school cafeterias was preserved, and shipped to homeless shelters all over the city. ONE, that's right, just ONE person got a stomach ache and dollar signs in his eyes...sued the city...the program came to a halt now the homeless & hungry will remain homeless and hungry.

July 01 2013 at 10:05 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I never Ever go to starbucks. The coffee is way to strong and it is way to expessive. I go th=o duncon DOnuts and )get this Mcdonals, they t=has the best coffee in the WHOLE world.

July 01 2013 at 5:06 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to xnewyaka22's comment
Cats Monty Powell

"I found the best cafe in the world" that is a quote from Penelope Cruz in a commercial about NESCAFE she claims it is the best in the whole world. I think there is some debate to this issue my friend my good friend

July 01 2013 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Wise One

I don't EVER go to Starbucks because their coffee products are obscenely overpriced and the coffee is just average, run of the mill JUNK! And if I ever did go there, leaving a tip would simply be out of the question. I am not going to subsidize the appalling wages that these employers pay their employees. That IS NOT my responsibility. Tipping in the US is out of control. Charge what the product actually costs and if someone wants to spend that amount of money for it they will. I WILL NOT!

June 29 2013 at 10:02 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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