Starbucks locations in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan region will be shortly introducing needle deposit boxes in store bathrooms after thousands of employees signed a petition demanding the coffee company do more to “protect employees.”
“Exposure to HIV/AIDS, Hep C, Hep B, etc. is a risk in Seattle where there is a heroin/hep c crisis. There is no vaccine for Hep C, and Starbucks refuses to comment when employees mention this risk,” the petition — posted by “Citizen Z” states. “Employees risk getting poked, and DO get poked, even when following ‘protocol’ of using gloves and tongs to dispose of used needles left in bathrooms, tampon disposal boxes, and diaper changing stations.”
The petition provides a brief understanding of the hazardous conditions at work. First, there is a fear among employees that they will come in contact with hypodermic needles that are regularly disposed of in trash cans in bathrooms by opioid addicts and the homeless. The petition provides an example of some employees having to receive medical care and paying "almost two thousand dollars" for hospital bills after-exposure. It goes on to say that employees must "pay out-of-pocket for this before being reimbursed until Starbucks's company insurance kicks in," adding that, "many baristas cannot afford the medical bills and have to resort to "loans and credit cards."
It goes on to say that there is a significant risk for pregnant employees, or those with immune disorders, find themselves afraid to go to work because of needles that are generally found in Starbucks bathrooms throughout the Seattle region. “Making coffee should not come with this kind of easily detoured risk,” the petition ends.
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition has more than 3,700 signatures out of the 4,000 needed.
Business Insider spoke with Starbucks representative Reggie Borges, who said employees are given a protocol for removing needles, but new disposal boxes will offer more safety.
“These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our [employees] in scary situations,” said Borges. “I can’t emphasize enough that if our partners are ever in a position where they don’t feel comfortable completing a task, they are empowered to remove themselves from the situation… As we always do, we are constantly evaluating our processes and listening to partner feedback of ways we can be better.”
Starbucks will be installing FDA-cleared sharps disposal containers in bathrooms around the city. Sharps containers are made from rigid plastic, and allow people to safely dispose of needles, syringes and other sharp medical instruments that might otherwise pierce a trash bag.
In May 2018, Starbucks announced a new "all-inclusive" public restroom policy, which opened the company's bathrooms to opioid addicts and the homeless, as employees contended with blood spattered walls, used drug needles, and face-melting waftings from deuce-dropping vagrants filling the store.
Starbucks said: "We want our stores to be the third place, a warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect. Any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase."
The company has since walked back its bathroom policy to just anyone, perhaps after realizing that their employees and patrons alike were not responding well to the prospects of vagrants using stores as a homeless shelter.