Starbucks won't call it another stop on the apology tour.
Even before a Rittenhouse Square barista caused a national uproar when she called the police in April about two black men who hadn't ordered anything, Starbucks says it had planned to come to Philadelphia to convene local corporations for a career fair. It had already held similar events in five other cities, including Atlanta and Los Angeles. But the "unfortunate event," as Starbucks chief operating officer Rosalind Brewer called it on Thursday, got the company to Philadelphia a little more quickly.
About 1,700 people registered for the free fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center hosted by the Hire! Philly coalition — a group of major Philly employers organized by Starbucks including Aramark, PNC Bank, Peco, Thomas Jefferson University, and Jefferson Health. The event comes a little more than four months after Starbucks settled with the two men who were arrested for an undisclosed sum, and Starbucks shut down all of its stores to host a training session on dealing with racial bias.
Representatives from Wawa, Target, Harrah's, Comcast, and even U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's office were on site, chatting with job seekers about potential opportunities. Students from YouthBuild Charter School and Ben Franklin High School, college grads, and newly arrived immigrants explored the cavernous convention hall. They could get a fresh cut from a barber, schedule a mock interview, and create a resume and take it with them on a USB. Rows of tables set up with laptops, called the "Application Center," were full all morning. Rapper and de facto Philly hero Meek Mill even made a guest appearance.
The fair was targeted to people seeking their first jobs, and many of the attendees were young and black, but others were there, too, such as Lynne Archie, 55, from Southwest Philly, who hoped to find a job in the medical field. Holding the cream blazer she had just picked up from the Career Wardrobe corner, Archie said she was starting to feel demoralized by her job search. She has been out of work since losing her job as a cleaner at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia two years ago and is now completing an online associate's degree in health information management. She is eager to work, but it is even hard to find a place for her to complete the internship required for her to get her degree.
"They say unemployment is down," she said, "but to the everyday people like me, we don't see that."
Brewer spoke to the Inquirer and Daily News about the goals of the event, the connection to the April arrests at 18th and Spruce Street, the subsequent fallout, the job fair, and the prospect of an increased Starbucks minimum wage.
Why did Starbucks organize this event and coalition?
This is our fifth event like this. A couple years ago, we decided to partner with other companies to hire 100,000 youths between the ages of 18 and 24 that wouldn't normally have opportunities to be employed. We had it in our plans to already come to Philadelphia for an event like this. The April 12 [arrests] and the learnings we've had since then made us feel like this is absolutely the right place to host one of our job fairs.
Can you elaborate on the connection between this job fair and the arrests in April?
It was a further commitment — yes, this is the right location to do it, and yes, let's do it sooner than later because we were really clear on the need. This also combines with our plans to put new real estate here, so we know we're going to be hiring to fill the new buildings, so it just made sense to make sure we got it on the calendar right away.
Why isn't Hire! Philly branded as a Starbucks initiative?
We want to create partnerships. Our real goal is people will do this on their own, whether Starbucks is involved or not. It's less about Starbucks and more about creating broader opportunities.
Why is it important for this to be an employer-led coalition?
Greater opportunity. When you think about a Starbucks store, we have 25 to 30 employees in a store. When you have so few opportunities within one store, you really need that partnership. This is about creating jobs for the masses.
Amazon recently announced it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, which speaks to the fact that there's a big range in the quality of jobs that are out there. Do you have a sense of what kinds of jobs are being offered here?
I'm not aware of what the starting rates are across all of the companies that are here. In a city like Philadelphia, I think first-time employment is what's so important because it just teaches you the discipline of having a job, setting a clock in the morning, and then beginning to regain your self pride because I can only imagine what it's like to be possibly approaching 25 years old and not having your first job yet. This is more about first-time employment.
Does Starbucks have any plans for raising its minimum wage nationwide?
In cities and states where they've mandated $15 [an hour], we are at $15. And we look at ourselves as an employer of choice for the broad package we offer. If you work 20 hours with us, you have the same full-time health-care benefit package. And you have access to a free tuition, online, through Arizona State University. And the ability to grow a career at Starbucks.
What's the difference between this job fair and the others you've helped organize around the country?
This is one of the areas that needs it more than some others. This one is deeply personal for us because we feel like we're filling a need. As we've worked our way through the April 12 situation, we have really spent some time with local officials here and they've helped up understand the plight of the folks of Philadelphia.