A couple dozen protesters gathered outside the Starbucks at 4th and Cherry to induct CEO Howard Schultz into the "Paid Sick Days Hall of Shame," in honor of the coffee mogul's move to strip US retail employees of paid sick leave benefits back in 2008. According to Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce campaign coordinator Gabriela Quintana, Starbucks continues to provide paid sick leave to company executives, and to its retail employees outside the US, including those in Australia, Chile, China, and San Francisco.
Starbucks earned $1.4 billion in profits in 2010. "I think they can afford to pay sick leave to US workers," says Quintana.
As usual whenever progressives gather to protest a business over some grievance or another, security was out in force. Police officers gathered within and without the Columbia Center Starbucks, which also brought in several non-uniformed security guards just for the occasion. After all, the Wobblies got a little violent back in 1919, so, you know, you can never be too careful.
Protesters chanted gamely and waved their signs to honks of approval from passing cars, but across the street in the city council's City Hall chambers, things were much more subdued. At a scheduled briefing on proposed sick leave regulations before the Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, a handful of audience members testified pro and con, before council staffer Ben Noble attempted to step council members Bruce Harrell, Sally Clark, Mike O'Brien and Nick Licata through an 18-page document. Everybody seemed non-committal. Zero drama.
To sum up the briefing: There is an undisputed public health benefit to providing paid sick leave to workers, particularly those in the retail and food service industries. But there's also an unavoidable cost to employers. And that's the cost-benefit analysis that is ultimately before the council.