I was on my way to teach last evening and was feeling like a needed a coffee. This feeling is not something rare. I stopped at the Lake Forest Oasis on I-94 on the way to my Tuesday evening teaching assignment. I stopped to get a coffee. I stopped to get a coffee because I was in low gear because I was operating on three hours sleep. I was operating on three hours sleep because of poor planning and inept task management.
There is a Starbucks within walking distance of my house, but I stopped at the Starbucks in the Oasis because it is so convenient and such an easy-off and back onto the interstate. I ordered what I order 86.73% of the time: a grande regular coffee with room for cream. The young fellow behind the counter said $2.48 as I handed him my card. $2.48? Just a week or ten days ago the very same order at this very same location was $2.20. I really do not note such prices except that the Oasis Starbucks was already charging $.15 more than the other Starbucks on "surface streets."
Wow... they raised their prices $.28 on top of the premium they were already charging. Why?
I asked the young man, the Barista as they are called, when they raised prices. He answered "Just a few days ago." I said, "that is a pretty hefty increase for just a cup of coffee." It is actually a 12.7% increase. That is above any increase in fuel or whatever else is happening. It is after all, as my parent's generation would say, just a lousy cup of coffee.
Then a thought struck me and I uttered another question to the barista fellow. "Did they give you a raise when they raised prices?" He smirked and said, "no nothing like that." I stopped asking questions, bid the pleasant fellow a good evening, and went to the side bar to put milk and artificial sweetener into my coffee thinking that if they are going to charge $2.48 for a lousy cup of coffee, they should at least by putting the sweetener and cream in it for me. That is what Dunkin' Donuts does for $.50 less per cup.
But, that is not all I was thinking. I was thinking communist thoughts. I would have accepted the price increase if half of it went to the workers. It did not; it went to the company and primarily to the executives and shareholders. It went mostly to the 1% that the Occupy Wall Street movement was protesting. I am not against executives and shareholders belonging, at times, to both classes.
Still, I wanted to tell the Barista to organize, to revolt, and that he had nothing to lose but his chains. Power to the people! I wanted to start an old school labor union where the Barista and I would be the first members.
I was feeling pretty sophomoric. That was the time of my life when I was the closest to being a communist. I am nowhere near that now but I more and more I feel I am taking steps in that direction. I am not one for extreme dogma. I prefer a balanced middle ground. My cousin David always says he is a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. Except for these Starbucks like moments, I am in the same boat with him. I am also pretty sure that, as a country, we are out of balance. We were once too far on the extreme of social welfare. We may have gone too far the other way. We can never seem to find a good middle ground. Funny, many of my fellow Americans believe that we are still too liberal.
Some people focus on gas prices or milk as their gauge of inflation. I guess I am using coffee but only in this one instance. I notice that prices for things are higher in big city hotels, airports, and now interstate oases. I am not always checking prices but I noticed this increase and it irritated me. What is $.28 really? It is a small thing versus the impact that an increase to $5/gallon of gas would have on our economy.
The power of labor unions is their ability to withhold labor and disrupt the operations and hence revenue and profits of a company. The power of the unions has declined in my lifetime. This is due to the globalization of the labor force resulting in so many hourly jobs, union jobs, having moved off shore. Of the remaining jobs, a large percentage of them are in right to work states or union free facilities. Mostly people are happy to have the jobs; they have and do not want to rock the boat. The most powerful unions in this country are now for government unions and they are under the same pressures that threatened other industries.
The difference between today and the heyday of union organizing in the 1930s is that for most workers today, the Barista in question versus Joe Lunchbucket of yore, are treated much better. People, generally, do not work in unsafe work places. There are few sweat shops in this country as we have exported the great majority of them to the third world. People work reasonable hours for moderately fair wages. The other thing that has changed is that the health care and retirement benefits for the great majority of us are not what they once were. Most people worry about the day to day, doing their jobs, and just making ends meet. When we worry about health care benefits, mostly I hear people complaining about Obamacare not how are we going to care for all our citizens. Oddly, very few are worrying about how the heck we are ever going to fund our retirements. Sure self-reliance works but only for a determined minority.
You see how my thoughts are tinged with the pink of socialism if not outright communism
So what if Starbucks is charging $.28 more for my lousy cup of coffee. So what if they are not sharing this gain with their workers. It is no never mind to the Tea Party me. I can go anywhere to get a cuppa. I can make coffee at home for less. I can get coffee for $1 at MacDonalds or around $1.50 - $2.00 at venues like Panera, Dunkin' Donuts, or other places. I go to Starbucks for convenience. They have a lot of stores. I generally like the feel of their stores and that taste of their coffee. There is a limit however in what I am willing to pay for the taste of their coffee, the ambiance of their stores, and the free internet (what part of the $.28 increase is going toward improved internet services?).
I am not sure where my limit is for a price of a cup of coffee or the price of a gallon of gas. I am not sure how far we can be squeezed before we organize, unionize, and perhaps truly occupy Wall Street.