Starbucks to push for employees and customers to vote on Election Day

Mark Makela | Reuters

Starbucks on Thursday said it will ensure that its baristas won’t have to choose between working and voting as part of a nonpartisan push to raise turnout on Election Day despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The coffee chain has long pushed for its employees and customers to practice civic engagement and vote. In 2016, the company partnered with TurboVote on a tool that registers its baristas to vote and sends them reminders. Eight years earlier, it offered a free tall coffee to anyone who stopped by on Election Day. (Election laws prohibited the chain from restricting the promotion to only those who voted.)

But this year, the election is arriving while the country battles the coronavirus. States across the country are making voting by mail easier in an effort to keep Americans from risking their lives at the polls.

“This isn’t about a particular election or a particular candidate. We do recognize that with the impact of Covid, that could add complexity,” said Zulima Espinel, head of global public policy at Starbucks.

Espinel said the company’s effort begins with conversations between managers and their employees to make sure its nearly 200,000 workers have the tools and time to vote. The chain has created a portal for its baristas with tools to register and vote.

“It’s not about one particular method. It’s about ‘OK, this works best for my life. I know where I can go to get the resources I need,'” Espinel said.

The Starbucks mobile app will include tools for customers to register to vote and confirm where and what method they should be using to do so.

Other corporations are also encouraging their workers and customers to head to the polls on Nov. 3. For example, the chain &pizza is closing its restaurants on Election Day and giving employees paid time off. And more than 700 companies, from Coca-Cola to Sweetgreen to Abercrombie & Fitch, have joined the nonpartisan coalition Time to Vote and committed to making it easier for their employees to vote, whether that means giving them a few hours of paid time off or making it a workday free of meetings.

Espinel said Starbucks will continue to advocate for safe and accessible voting for everyone.

CEO Kevin Johnson said in a letter to baristas announcing the initiative that the company will share more about its commitments to racial equity, justice and opportunity in coming weeks and months, including more transparency about diversity and inclusion data.

“The bottom line being: Starbucks will not wait for change, we will make change of our own,” he wrote.

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