Starbucks discounts cost Polson Safeway staffers their jobs

Posted by Jessica Mayrer on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 3:08 PM

Safeway suspended at least 15 staffers without pay in the middle of July and fired two employees as punishment for accepting and providing discounted coffee drinks from a Starbucks kiosk inside its Polson, Mont. store, employees say.

"All of this could have been handled with a simple bulletin," says Naomi Hartman, 32, who worked as the Starbucks kiosk manager in Polson for just more than a year. Officially a Safeway employee, she was terminated July 27.

Prior to becoming the coffee kiosk manager in Polson, Hartman had worked other jobs at the Polson Safeway and as a kiosk manager at a Missoula Safeway.

When she started managing the Polson Starbucks, Hartman says, it was established practice to give discounts to employees. It made sense, she says, because operational standards for freshness created a "ridiculous amount of waste."

"I probably threw away at least 100 if not 200 shots of espresso down the drain every day just trying to calibrate my machine," she says. "A lot of times I was throwing away an entire pot of coffee, because it timed out. I considered a lot of what I was giving a discount on garbage."

After Safeway loss prevention specialists discovered the practice, they conducted interviews with employees. "It was an interrogation," Hartman says. "We were forced to sign statements. And, honestly, my statement was very much them telling me what I should write down."

A woman who identified herself as a Safeway manager in Polson declined to comment for this article. She referred a reporter to corporate Safeway offices. As of press time, Safeway had not responded to requests for comment.

A suspended Safeway employee who spoke to the Independent expressed fear that the grocer would terminate him in retaliation for speaking publicly. To alleviate his concern, the Independent is not publishing his name. "They're looking for any reason to fire us," he says.

Though nobody ever told that employee that discounted coffee was against the rules, he's also contrite. The recent crackdown makes sense, he says, when one takes into account how many staffers were receiving discounts. "It adds up considerably."

Comments (8)

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I am a retired 40 year employee of Safeway. On your first day of employment you sign off on company policy, which specifically states employees will receive no discount on any purchases not offered to the public. Managers are allowed small discretion in this area for some rare events. All close dated edible products are usually donated to your food bank or other charity's . Ironically employee theft is one of the largest costs to retailers. It is difficult for those of us who have had to conserve to get by witness such waste, but in the end it is not our business. Small allowances always grow, and once a policy is broken, it is no longer a policy. It is more difficult to maintain policy in a small town where most employees are also friends , hence want to help each other.

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Posted by John Brunemeier on 05/03/2013 at 10:48 PM

The Safeway manager is rude to customers and employees. He thinks being a bully is going to get him everything he wants. You can't Do this in a small town, He SHOULD have held a meeting with the Starbucks Crew with loss prevention present, told them this is how much is being lost by giving these discounts and explained if anybody is caught giving a discounted coffee they will then be terminated. Especially when the store manager's wife accepted a discounted coffee!!!! Especially one of the employees no longer there is a disabled Veteran!!!! The Store Manager had been rude to her almost from the beginning refusing her to go to the doctor when she is was puking in front of customers, then being rude when the doctor wrote a note saying she couldn't work with the public until she wasn't contagious. This is how he treats our disabled veterans that have been over seas fighting for our freedom!! Who thinks this is right?

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Posted by Teresa Soria-Funke on 08/08/2012 at 11:59 AM

I think Safeway got stuck on stupid. This could have been handled so much better. They not only lost a very good employee who brought in a lot of business. They have lost a lot of customers. This is a small town store and people know people here. It is not in a big city where people don't even know the people that live next door. No warning?????

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Posted by Bill Heckman on 08/07/2012 at 9:57 AM

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Posted by Matthew Frank on 08/06/2012 at 10:49 AM

Naomi Hartman is my niece, and I am truly sickened by this display of stupidity! Safeway and Starbucks just shot themselves in the foot...........they lost a wonderful employee, not to mention one of the most honest people I've ever known! Time for me to do some boycotting!

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Posted by Kathy Sager on 08/05/2012 at 7:32 PM

What passionate comments. Obviously, Safeway should have handled the situation differently. Employees should only be terminated for violations of their Employee Handbook. I doubt giving discounts for old coffee is a violation of their Code of Conduct.

If I ran the Safeway I would probably just have told the employees not to do whatever it is I did not want them doing. Ms. Hartman is correct, some notice to employees could have prevented bad feelings, lost business and possible litigation for Safeway.

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Posted by Jason Sager on 08/03/2012 at 3:54 PM

Actually, Jim, if you'd ever worked at a Starbucks, you'd know exactly what kind of waste they're talking about-- and sadly, dumping out gallons of coffee and hundreds of shots of espresso is standard practice for the chain, because (for example) they require starting with a full coffee dispenser every time and require it changed every few hours, regardless of how many customers are actually coming in to drink it. They also want their espresso to taste uniform, which means if the machine pulls the shot differently, you're prohibited from serving it, and the first pulls are never uniform.

It's also not anything like throwing away hundreds of dollars, because the beans cost Starbucks way less than they cost you. That's corporate policy, not the manager's. It matters more to them to protect their brand, which is also why after a few hours coffee goes down the drain and not to, say, a hospital waiting room, or VFW, or homeless shelter.

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Posted by exbarista on 08/02/2012 at 3:39 PM

Anyone pouring 100-200 shots of espresso out per day clearly has no business operating a coffee business. That would be like throwing away 300 - 600 bucks per day. I think I know why loss prevention was looking at this.

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Posted by Jim Floyd on 08/01/2012 at 5:51 PM
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