• Investors ask Starbucks board to look at company policy for paid parental leave
• They say policy risks discriminating against low-income workers, LGBTQ families
A group of investors is asking the board of Starbucks Corp. to weigh the risk that the company's new policy for paid parental leave is discriminatory.
The policy was updated Oct. 1 so that new mothers working in its coffee shops can take six weeks of leave with full pay, rather than partial pay. New mothers who work at Starbucks headquarters and other parts of the company can take up to 18 weeks of fully paid leave.
That “unequal stance” could disproportionately harm low-income workers and workers of color, investors led by Zevin Asset Management said in what they called a first-of-its-kind shareholder proposal. The proposal said Starbucks also risks discriminating against LGBTQ families because the company offers paid leave to retail employees who give birth but only unpaid leave if they're fathers, adoptive parents, or foster parents. Fathers and other parents who don't work in retail get 12 weeks of paid leave.
Starbucks says its parental leave policy exceeds what most retailers provide full- or part-time workers.
“There are very few people in this country who even have paid family leave,” Brianna
Cayo Cotter, chief of staff at an advocacy group called Paid Leave for the United
States, said. The U.S. is the only country among 41 developed nations that doesn't
mandate it, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Not Just Starbucks
Among companies that do offer it, research by Paid Leave for the United States shows their policies are often less generous for hourly wage workers, fathers, and adoptive parents. There are some, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Nordstrom Inc., that grant the same amount of paid leave regardless of whether an employee is salaried or hourly.
“Starbucks isn't one of them,” Cotter said, but neither are a number of other companies. Zevin Asset Management, Arjuna Capital, and the other investors that submitted the proposal have also written to Amazon.com Inc., Target Corp., and eight more companies with parental leave policies that they consider unequal or insufficient.
Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges said it's important not to look at the company's parental leave benefit in a vacuum. “You have to take a look at the entire suite of benefits we offer,” Borges told Bloomberg BNA. The coffee chain was one of the nation's first companies to offer comprehensive health benefits and shares of Starbucks stock to both part- and full-time employees, as long as they work at least 20 hours a week.
“Starbucks has built a lot of its reputation and a lot of its presentation to workers around equal benefits,” Pat Tomaino, who leads Zevin's corporate engagement program, said. “So the fact that they have such a wide discrepancy” in parental leave “is a reputational issue for them,” he said.
Baristas have petitioned Starbucks on parental leave before and the company fielded questions on the topic at its most recent annual meeting in March. Borges said Starbucks is “constantly taking that feedback” from employees.
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