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."