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Starbucks responds to anti-bike allegations

Posted by on October 20th, 2006 at 9:43 pm

The story I posted Tuesday about former Starbucks employee Fabian Mills and the alleged anti-bike comments made by his manager Frances Ericson, has quickly spread around the web.

Forums and blogs from around the country (and even Japan) have picked up the story and despite the fact that I only reported Mills’ side of the events, most of the sentiment has been less than favorable to Starbucks.

Today I got a call from Starbucks’ Director of Corporate Communications, Valerie O’Neil. Ms. O’Neil was concerned that the Internet buzz was unfairly portraying the situation and she wanted to know what Starbucks could do to set the record straight.

O’Neil followed up our conversation with the following prepared statement (published in its entirety, with emphasis added by me):

“Recently, comments were made online about an incident which occurred between a Starbucks district manager and store manager Fabian Mills in Portland, Ore. regarding his bicycling to work. The portrayal of this exchange as presented by Mr. Mills in this online article is false. The concerns raised by the district manager were regarding Mr. Mills’ arriving late to a meeting and being disheveled in appearance, not about his riding a bicycle to work.

Starbucks has a long history of supporting alternative transportation commute options for our partners (employees). Starbucks encourages partners to use alternative transportation; in fact, in 2005, 29 percent of our partners at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle participated in alternative commute programs, including bicycling to work. Additionally, Starbucks was the title sponsor of the Seattle Bike to Work Day 2006 in May.

Starbucks hosts a Biking Club as part of Partner Connections, a program designed to encourage partners to participate in activities outside of the everyday work environment. This Biking Club also encourages partners to ride their bicycles to work.

In Oregon, Starbucks is a regular sponsor of Providence Bridge Pedal, Portland’s annual community cycling event. Starbucks has also worked with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) to encourage and reward residents who cycle as an alternative means of transportation, including Starbucks partners.”

I respect and appreciate that Starbucks has gone beyond their usual policy and directly addressed the situation in order to add some important details to the story.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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[…] [Update: The Director of Corporate Communications for Starbucks has responded to this story with a prepared statement.] [Fabian Mills, formerStarbucks store manager] […]

Jasun Wurster
Guest
Jasun Wurster

Director of Corporate Communications

Isn’t that a fancy name for a person that get’s paid to lie?

Isn’t that a fancy name for a person that get’s paid to lie?

Damage Control is so damn entertaining.

Oh, I guess I should interject something of value here. How late was Mills’ to the meeting? Was this his first time he was late? Was it documented? The reason for asking is that the statement released by Valerie O’Neil is PR textbook perfect at discrediting Mills’ while making her employer look like a victim.

Would have Frances Ericson tone had different Mills’ had drove a car and had a mechanical failure or a traffic collision locked up I-5 taht she could relate to? In other words does Starbucks *really* “… [encourage] partners to use alternative transportation …” without providing their managers “sensitivity training” that alternative mode of transportation are just as susceptible to mechanical failures and congested traffic. Also, that it is common to be slightly out of breath and have a disheveled appearance after riding for an extended period of time.

ben
Guest
ben

even if starbucks as a corporate entity claims to be pro-bike, theres no telling where their employees stand on the issue.

i’m met plenty of people that work for starbucks and don’t give a crap about what the company’s values are.

issuing a statement like they did above doesn’t really disprove Fabian Mills’s allegations. instead of gabbing about how wonderful they think their company is, they’d probably get a better response from the bike community if they just said “that sounds super shitty, we better go check with the manager and the ex-employee and look into this further.”

Macaroni
Guest
Macaroni

It’s pretty tough to ride a bike to work and not look disheveled. Personally, my boss has mellowed out about appearance and has started coming to work a bit disheveled herself after rowing the river before work.
It’s unreasonable for people who go from a heated house to a heated car to a heated building, who never experience weather, to expect one of their own, though a bicyclist, to look exactly like them. I think another city, say in Texas, might suit this brainwashed manager. Her values are a tad screwed up if you ask me. A suit and tie does not make the man (or woman).
And this is Starbucks for pete’s sake, not United Health Care where the CEO’s base salary is $19,000,000 plus stock options (back dated) and more!
Lighten up Starbucks! You’ve definitely lost my business.

Fabian
Guest
Fabian

The fact is I wasn’t late to the meeting, in fact I was there at 6:52am (meeting was at 7:00) and so what if I had helmet hair. Lets talk about the manager that was 2 hours late to the meeting or the 2 others that were 20 minutes late. The argument is baseless.

Fabian

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Either Fabian has a hardon, or the district manager has a…ummm…hardon. Either way, these hardons have to stop!

adam
Guest
adam

Fabian, you need to promote yourself to Director so you can talk to these fancy corporate people.

nothing is funnier than a corporation with a soul.

get a damn haircut and an iron and go work for someone worth half a shit.

Michael
Guest
Michael

Well hopefully becuase starbucks is reacting to the story with damage control they are also looking internally and strengthen training and iniatives. I do say why only bike to work in seattle? why not sponser bike to work as at the national level? it seems to me starbucks focuses heavily on the seattle area on support on the community.

I will say to Fabian is with working in retail myself, I realize 6:52 is about on time but still you could have brought a comb and be a tad earlier to do your hair a little.

John Boyd
Guest

The original starbucks logo with exposed mermaid breasts here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Starbucks1.JPG

If war on local business is your plan, never let ’em see you sweat, or your nipples.

Javen
Guest
Javen

Sounds like Starbucks should have responded to your first call….

BURR
Guest
BURR

It would have been better for Starbucks to offer an apology rather than a denial. But I guess their PR people really aren’t that smart.

Toby
Guest
Toby

Ummm…reality check here….is the argument that Fabian was late ( denied by him ) becauase he was on his bike, and that if he’d been driving, there was no way that he would have been late ??? Sreiosly?

Let me disabuse Starbucks of the belief that
cars = on-time. If they condsider this a valid argument they must be really desperate. I agree with Burr-they should have just appologized instead of a lame denial.

BURR
Guest
BURR

Also, have you ever noticed that there are never any bike racks at Starbucks? If they’re as bike friendly as they claim, what’s up with the almost universal lack of bike parking at their shops?

bikenzfun
Guest
bikenzfun

not that i am taking starbucks side but I have seen bike racks at starbucks.
specifically sequoia parkway and i am positive there is a rack at the newer starbucks on barbur both in SW.

Javaboy
Guest
Javaboy

Ms. Coroprate Fancy Pants forgot to mention that they sponsor a womens cycling team as well. I’m sure (sarcastic tone) that would have changed some minds.

Still I’ll Resist the Corporate Coffee!!

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis
Guest

Looking dissheveled?

Arriving late to A meeting?

A great deal of the Starbucks employees I see looking fashionably dissheveled–distressed, I’d say. Suddenly it’s an issue?

And he was asked not to bike in and transferred to the back end of Troutdale for missing one meeting?

That excuse for the treatment of Fabian is a real insult to the intelligence. And it’s as maybe that Starbucks has committed to bicycling, but unless it’s all fashionable and PR-licious then obviously it’s incovenient.

Starbucks still hasn’t, for me, shaken the impression I got that they didn’t like Fabian cycling to work and they were willing to hassle him to do it. For shame.

organic brian
Guest
organic brian

None of the rhetoric changes the reality of Starbucks and bike culture. Put Starbucks against any local coffee shop in town, and probably Starbucks is the one with the fewer bike commuting employees and fewer biking customers. Probably has a lot to do with their attitude about bikes and the lack of parking.

Jon
Guest
Jon

“Disheveled appearance”? Apparantely these people #1. Dont have kids, #2. Haven’t picked up a fashion magazine or #3. Haven’t turned on the television for the last 5 years. By any standard, messy hair is IN! IN! IN!

Maybe he was sporting some of those $300 jeans that are SUPPOSED to look wrinkled. http://www.neimanmarcus.com/store/catalog/prod.jhtml;jsessionid=MALH4EFMDIUBACQAAKIBABA?itemId=prod35090237&parentId=cat11280733&index=1&cmCat=

Talk about an argument that dosen’t hold water in today’s society.

Caffeine is an drug addictive and some of you have had too much
Guest
Caffeine is an drug addictive and some of you have had too much

Maybe “disheveled appearance” is a polite term for “the guy is an absolute dirtbag, needs a bath, and always shows up sweaty and late for meetings”.

Or perhaps Starbucks hates bike riding employees and secretly wants to push them out of the corporation at all costs, hence the harrasment and lack of bike racks.

No way to win this one. If you weren’t there, how can you know who is right? Are you picking who you believe on a purely emotional basis? Is the little guy always right? How many of you new Starbucks haters are actually regular Starbucks customers in the first place?

J
Guest
J

I had no Idea there where so many communists out there. A couple of guys start a coffee company, market it well, run it well, get rich and then they can do no right. I just don’t get why everyone (in this forum) is so anti
corporation. Is the only way to be a good company if you only have one store and go to work at 4:00 am and brew the coffee yourself whilst you wife bakes the pastries on a home made brick oven that has been in the family for generations??? Someone explain to me why you are automatically an a-hole just because you meet the demands of a market and make it big.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Nothing against corporations unless they are predatory (like moving in next to an independent cafe and with advertising and coupons undercutting their business) they lie about their fair trade buying ( it’s not fair trade coffee if it’s only 10% of the beans purchased) their product is crap ( every bean is roasted the same even though beans from different regions should sometimes be roasted lighter) or they treat their employees like shit (giving your part-time worker health care doesn’t count if they have to work 20 hrs./wk to receive it and you only get scheduled for 19.5).

If Starbucks is a “specialty coffee” how the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) still refuses them membership? I think it has something to do with their complete inability to roast coffee, and maybe because their “Baristas” don’t have to know anything about the grind of the coffee or how to pack or time a shot because the machines are fully automatic.

J
Guest
J

They don’t treat their employees like shit.
At least according to the 20 or so starbucks employees that I know. And my Girl worked ther for 7 years while she was going to school. They treated her very well!
Of course she didn’t show up late looking like hell either. Hmmmm?

A lot of mom and pop shops cant give any of thier employees health insurance even at full time. How is that better?

And the machines are probably “fully automatic” so that you don’t have to wait 20 minutes for an americano like I do at the mom and pop stores while the 13yr old neice fumbles around with the espresso machine for 15 minutes and then forgets to call your name so it sits on the bar for another 5 minutes.
Granted, my area DEFINATELY does not have the best local coffee shops in the country.

And the taste? I have had what I would consider authentic espresso from all over Italy. Dont get me wrong it’s better than starbucks but a good starbucks americano or espresso is still good. I guess that one will always be subjective but I have a feeling most of you are letting you emotions take control of your taste buds.

Cecil
Guest
Cecil

J – Hating Starbucks doesn’t make one a communist. Subscribing to the credo of “From each according to his (or her) ability, to each according to his (or her) need,” and does. The “free market” system (not that there really is such a thing outside the curriculum of the University of Chicago’s economics department) is anathema to communism not because it allows individuals to get rich, but because it allows individuals to get rich at the expense of others.

“Communism” with a capital “C,” as it has been developed in America politics, is to communal philosophy as Starbucks is to good coffee. In other words, it ain’t the real thing.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis
Guest

No, but calling people Communist used to distract people and shut down a conversation real quick. At least it did back in the ’80s and ’90s, back when Communism was a big bear in Eurasia.

Regardless of what anyone thinks, “J” included, I appreciate and respect companies that walk thier talk. It doesn’t look like Starbucks does in this case. You either support your employees in a way that’s consistent with your public posture, or you don’t.

Moreover, if something like this floats to the surface and the only response to the vox pop is something sounds canned and trite, then that’s actually contempt masquerading as respect…and not very well, at that.

If expecting to be spoken to as an adult and then being offended by being spoken to as a child is seen as impolitic, that’s tough…for someone. But not for me.

Starbucks blew this one. It really is as simple as that.

J
Guest
J

Cecil,Samuel
Boy you guys sure can write well.
Was there a legitimate point or fact in hidden in there somewhere regarding this case. Or is this just a place to show everyone how well you can write and how big your vocab is?

BTW I was mostly joking about the communist thing.

J

Macaroni
Guest
Macaroni

J,
I guess communists are just better educated.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I find the fact that Starbuck’s even responded to the ‘internet buzz’ humorous at best.
The reality is, all those jumping on the ‘Starbucks is the devil’ bandwagon wouldn’t go their anyway, regardless of their biking policies. So, I am surprised they care.

That being said, I think that they came out and pointed to the fact that Fabien (probably) is an un-kept slob, and habitually late, without going into details that might get them sued. As an employee of a company (any company) you are expected to arrive at work, looking professional and ready to start work. As a biker I know how you look after a ride, and if you don’t give yourself time to get ‘cleaned up’ you look UNprofessional and usually smell like you just rode to work. As a manager, and as somebody working with food products that is not an image you should present, at an ‘evil Starbucks’ or at a Mom and Pop shop…

Frankly, if his behavior was deemed inappropriate for Starbuck’s and he was fired over it, he was warned, warned again, and then warned some more. No one gets fired from a big corp with-out a mile long paper trail. The company’s aren’t stupid.

If there was really some “crazy manager” and an ant-biking corporate vendetta that our poor Fabien was a victim of, I have a feeling his first trip would have been to a Lawyer, not whining on a message forum.

brett
Guest
brett

I’m back in country and I see everything is still the same… writers posting sensation to stir things up, readers that don’t have all the facts posting passionate judgments, and lots of the same folks just looking for an argument instead of finding some common ground and actually contributing something useful. It reminds me of the philosophical evolution the Greeks contributed to our species; they too had lots and lots and lots of free time… at least the privileged ones.

Anyway, it’s good to be back in Portland and its GREAT bike community.

Matt Picio
Guest

“Anyway, it’s good to be back in Portland and its GREAT bike community.”

If that’s meant honestly – cool! Welcome back!

If it’s meant sarcastically, then – remember that the vocal writership on this site represents about 0.2% of the cycling community.

Let’s get out there and ride!

adam
Guest
adam

I am a communist. call me what you want, I really don’t care.

Fabian will be better off when he takes more money from starbucks(are you going to sue those morons?) and finds better people to work with.

It is time to ignore people who do not understand. let’s worry about building the community of people that do understand.

J
Guest
J

Adam,
Your a communist that wants someone to sue so they can get more money?????

And how can you “build a community of people that do understand” if your ignoring the people that don’t???

There is definately one thing I don’t understand…. a word your saying.

J

J
Guest
J

By the way, well said Brian!

Cate
Guest
Cate

J = troll

J
Guest
J

I see we have reached a breaking point.
That was easy.

brett
Guest
brett

Matt

I see how what I said could have been seen as sarcastic… it wasn’t. I love Portland and I love being a cyclist. Sometimes I do forget the numbers, thanks.

ridealot
Guest
ridealot

I love the way this devolved to ‘he said’ vs ‘she said’.

Starbucks is now a part of the ‘Ford Expedition’ culture that I dispise. Thats why I go out of my way not to go there. And that is why I believe Fabio ;).

Americano with extra room please.

You can keep the foo foo crap.

The Foot
Guest

J,

Communism. Ha ha ha! That’s a good one, you joker you. I also liked how you poked fun at the writing skills of others but misspelled words and mangled you’re [sic] grammar. I know, it’s irony, and everyone else here (well, the Commies at least) just don’t get it.

Seriously, though, regarding people’s choices to support local businesses versus predatory non-local businesses, how can that be considered “communist” or anything like it? In fact, from a certain perspective, supporting local business is less “communistic” than supporting homogenization. (Think about it.)

You trolls always like to act like “commies” hate success, which is purely BS, and you know it. Stumptown, for example, seems to be quite successful, and I’d guess that many people here support them. [Add plethora of successful local businesses here.]

It’s not about hating success. Instead it’s about making conscious, principled decisions. Personally, I want to retain the freedom to make those decisions as I see fit, for good the of the community AND for myself.

====

Regarding the original topic, I love some of the “logic” presented here. Someone said (Brian, I’m looking at you), in essence, that no one gets fired from a big corp without a mile-long paper trail, so therefore Fabian must have been warned repeatedly, and therefore he must be in the wrong.

First of all, huh? People are not always fired for just cause. I think everyone knows this. [Add examples of unjust firings here.]

Second of all, he wasn’t fired. He quit after being harassed–at least, that’s my take on the original story. Also from the original story, his first stop seems to have been “…the human resources and business ethics departments.”

If a person (apparently) can’t be bothered to read the original story before commenting, how we can take that person’s commentary seriously? I don’t.

Macaroni
Guest
Macaroni

I agree. Read the entire story and all the posts before commenting.
BTW, an employer can fire an employee for pretty much anything as long as they don’t use race, religion and gender (some governments also protect sexual orientation) as the reason.
There is nothing Fabian can sue Starbucks for and no labor laws have been violated that I can see from the info Fabian provided.
He did what he should’ve done – quit working for a bad employer. They lost a good manager.

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

Please don’t feed the trolls.

trackback

[…] I feel like I lost a ton of momentum. Monday morning I was flying high…I’d just noticed my Starbucks story had spread all over the country, and I was excited to share a report and photos from my weekend of cyclocross racing. […]

joshua
Guest
joshua

just got word that starbucks is going to be showing a movie about the cycling team their sponsoring, its all poor minority kids from the hood and starbucks encourages them to ride bikes to save the world. turns out, starbucks does save the world and we all smile with our 14 word, 7 dollar coffees. what a happy ending, hooray for starbucks!! a corporation with a warm fuzzy soul

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Maybe if Starbuck didn’t spend so much money on advertising and PR they could pay a FAIR TRADE price for their beans.

RWL11
Guest

Matt Picio stated: Let’s get out there and ride!

I wish I could, but there are only 6 MILES of legal singletrack in this ‘bike friendly city’ for a mountain biker to ride in. That same 6 miles gets boring after one trip to Powell Butte, which is a 1/2 hour drive from downtown. I guess I’ll just load up my fossil fuel burning vehicle and DRIVE to the trails…….after stopping at Starbucks for a hot coffee!

Crafty
Guest
Crafty

So, why is it that what started out as a disciplinary action between an employee and a supervisor gets blown out of proportion into a bike comunity vs Starbucks issue.

Whatever happened to taking personal responsibility in your life and either making changes or moving on. Where’s your work ethic?

I don’t see why Starbucks is always a target. Yep, they’re coorporate, but they are very successful and a lot of people have jobs because of them.

Bill
Guest
Bill

I know Fabian. He actually puts a couple hours in here at my bike shop every few weeks when he has some time. He is a great guy, very responsible, honest and does what he says he’s gonna do. I believe the bike community turned Starbucks into a target because of their poor handling of this situation and for their consistant social dishonesty. Starbucks can “say” they are community/biker friendly but its situations like these that really prove where they stand on issues. Its situations like these that prove that sponsoring events and bike teams is merely advertising and PR for Starbucks. Even if I look at this subjectively and say both sides couldve made mistakes, I still have to say Starbucks reacted poorly in their comments made to Jonathan. Instead of apologizing to the community for the poor response an “individual” of their corporation made towards Fabian (lets face it, saying some of those things she said was POOR, no matter what the circumstance), they stood behind her statements and tried backing it up with foo foo PR.
It is a FACT that Fabian did NOT get fired and was not previously written-up for similar behavior. It is a FACT that Fabian gave Starbucks countless hours of his time, when needed (all the time is how that should be read), well in advance of his scheduled workday and well after (thats what you get when youre salary, but it shows his level of comittment). It is a FACT that the superviser told Fabian that if he wanted to go anywhere with the company he needed to give up his idea of riding his bike to work (aong with several other anti-bike remarks).

A bike team does not make you bike friendly, that means you think its a great advertising technique…. Just as 10% Fair Trade beans does not truly make your coffee Fair Trade.

Boo, Starbucks, BOO! You might provide jobs, but you take them away from our community as well.

J
Guest
J

Bill,
Just courius how starbucks takes jobs away from our community?? Please explain.

J

Bill
Guest
Bill

J,
it doesnt take a retail expert to figure this one out….
they drive retail rental rates up by paying a lot more (they dont have to worrying about coming in and making a profit on one store. at least not immediately), thus driving other coffee shops out as they snag some of their customers, but ultimately by driving rent up in the area. Additionally, when Starbucks goes in they almost always drag another chainbiz along with them. its called gentrification and it costs you more for what you want each time big business comes in and makes the area “better”. I think the strip mall/big business look of some cities is offensive. Nothing small, unique, different. Cookie cutter big business tends to care about profit first and foremost. That usually means buying lower quality products, but giving a perceived value of something better, thus increasing the bottomline (10% Free Trade Coffee may not taste different than 100% Free Trade coffee, but they arent paying as much for it and supporting better wages abroad, but are still charging the same price and giving it the perception its something different than what it is. thats lying!). With big business, when it comes to cost vs quality, cost will win almost every time. I know as a small biz owner and a friend of many other small biz owners the equation usually works the other way around. In a moment I would take a hit in my profitability if the question of price vs quality comes up.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Bill, please don’t feed the troll.

adam
Guest
adam

I wish I were like J.

Whatever you decide, fabian, we will support you. anyone who is against one of use is against all of us,

understand?

trackback

[…] The story was first reported on a local portland website, BikePortland.org earlier this month. However since the story broke it has, as one might expect, spread across the internet in a manner that has not cast a favorable light on the coffee giant who claim to have long history of supporting alternative transportation commute options for its employees. […]