The author, Starbucks barista Kristen Picciolo, had a baby last year and says the companys paid leave policy, which offers corporate employees more time off than baristas, is inequitable.
The author, Starbucks barista Kristen Picciolo, had a baby last year. She says the company's paid leave policy, which offers corporate employees more time off than baristas, is inequitable. courtesy of kristin Picciolo

My name is Kristen and I am barista at a Starbucks in Medina, Ohio. Next week I am traveling to Seattle with my 3-month-old baby so I can attend the Starbucks annual shareholder meeting.

Working at Starbucks is hard work, but it’s fulfilling, and I love my coworkers and my regular customers. That’s why it’s surprising, even to me, that I’m speaking out about a company policy that just isn’t right. But major life events have a way of opening your eyes to what’s important.

Last year when I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, I was thrilled and excited. Like all expecting parents, I was worried about making sure the baby would be healthy and safe. I didn’t realize I had to worry about whether I would even be able to bond with my own child. It wasn’t until I was actually in labor at the hospital that I found out I wouldn’t get paid a single day for my maternity leave, being a few hours short to qualify. And that even if I had qualified, the leave I got would have been paltry compared to the time that workers in the corporate headquarters get.

Starbucks recently made headlines with a new policy that provides up to 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave, and an additional 6 weeks for birth recovery. But when you read past the headlines, it turns out that expecting parents who work in the stores—baristas like me—get much less, or nothing at all. New birth moms get only 6 weeks paid leave—and only when they qualify for a base number of hours. New dads and adoptive parents don’t get even a single day.

The situation opened my eyes to the fact that hard-working families across the country are facing a caregiving crisis. Right now, one in four new mothers go back to work just 10 days after childbirth because they don’t have any paid family leave, and they can’t afford to get by without any income. And millions of dads and adoptive parents don’t get even a single day of paid leave to bond with their babies.

Corporate policies that provide unequal leave for headquarters staff and partners in stores don’t make any sense: Are our babies and families less important than those born to corporate employees?

Starbucks employees who work in the stores like me know this isn’t right. I’m one of over 83,000 people who have signed petitions started by current and former Starbucks baristas asking Starbucks to do what is right and offer the same parental leave benefits to in-store employees as new parents who work in the corporate office. Because my babies need just as much time with me as their babies need with them.

This is so important to me that I am traveling to Seattle next week to make sure Starbucks listens to our concerns. I will be joining local baristas to talk to investors and executives about whether they’re comfortable with a policy that leaves out baristas—the heart and soul of the company.

Starbucks is one of the largest employers in the country, and a truly fair and equal parental leave program will set the stage for many other companies to follow their leadership. Starbucks is a great company that has the chance to be even better. I hope they will reconsider their policy.

All parents know how precious every minute is with a newborn—but we shouldn’t have to count that time in minutes, or mere days. I know that every parent deserves the chance to bond with their baby, and that you can’t get that time back. It’s time for the company’s leadership to acknowledge that baristas deserve the chance to be there with their babies, just as much as the staff in corporate headquarters.

Kristen Picciolo has worked for Starbucks for a year and is traveling to Seattle for next week's shareholder meeting in hopes of encouraging the company to improve its paid family leave policy.