The directive is simple: Go out and make sure your voice is heard this fall, Starbucks told its approximately 200,000 retail managers and baristas. The company announced today that baristas won’t have to make an uncomfortable choice between working a shift behind the espresso bar or voting on November 3.
“The upcoming election is a reminder that we, as citizens, play an active role in our society by simply getting involved and voting,” Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, wrote in a letter the coffee giant distributed company-wide this week. “Who you vote for is a very personal decision that you make as a citizen. It is one way for you to be heard. It is how democracy works.”
Starbucks has made a clarion call to its customers, too. Starting September 8, citizens can visit FuelOurDemocracy.com so they can make their plans to register and vote.
In addition, the company said it will work with Civic Alliance, which describes itself as a non-partisan coalition of companies that helps employees find volunteer opportunities, such as poll workers, in order to support fair access to U.S. elections.
Starbucks’ move is particularly noteworthy as this year’s election cycle has been sidetracked by the novel coronavirus pandemic and accusations that the current administration in the White House is doing whatever it can to sabotage the right to vote, whether that occurs at actual polling stations on Election Day or via the U.S. Postal Service.
The coffee giant joins companies like Patagonia and Levi Strauss. Concurrently, nonpartisan corporate groups that support free and fair access to the ballot box, including Business For America and the American Sustainable Business Council, are finding more companies quick and willing to align with their efforts.
The announcement by Starbucks is important as the company employs many people who comprise groups with historically low rates of participating in U.S. elections, namely students and people of color. It’s one thing to plan how you will vote if you are a white-collar employee who is now working from home. But for retail workers, who often work very different schedules from week to week, their daily reality is far different — and many states make it difficult to vote using an absentee ballot.
DJ Mitchell-Jones, a manager at a Starbucks store in Miami Gardens, Florida, is one example of how employees across the U.S. are taking on causes and being heard by companies while they are both on and off the clock. While working at one of the company’s “community stores” — which Starbucks describes as retail locations in underserved neighborhoods that seek to improve job training and economic opportunities for local residents — it’s clear the company heard Mitchell-Jones’ calls to action, one she has made often since she helped open this particular Starbucks location in the fall of 2017.
“We complain about what’s happening in our communities, but so, so many people in our communities don’t vote,” Mitchell-Jones explained in a Starbucks public statement. “After [the 2018 midterm election], I jumped in with both feet. It’s my driving force. This store has become a hub of information and access.”
As voter suppression efforts have morphed over the years from poll taxes, to aiming fire hoses at citizens, to what are now tactics designed to encourage cynicism by making accusations of “voter fraud,” we’ll need more actions like that of Starbucks over the next several weeks.
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Image credit: Marvette Critney/Pixabay
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.