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Starbucks names 'chief partner officer' amid barista backlash

  • Starbucks has tapped Lucy Helm, an 18-year veteran with the company, for the role of chief partner officer.
  • The move comes after baristas have complained that understaffing has affected morale and productivity at chains.
  • In a letter to employees, CEO Kevin Johnson said that Helms is "ideal" for the role and has a "profound passion for partner advocacy."
Lucy Helm, named Chief Partner Officer at Starbucks.
Source: Starbucks
Lucy Helm, named Chief Partner Officer at Starbucks.

Starbucks announced Wednesday that it has tapped Lucy Helm, an 18-year veteran with the company, for the role of chief partner officer.

The company told CNBC that Helm had been serving in the role on an interim basis prior to the announcement. She previously worked as general counsel and is a current member of Starbucks' senior leadership team.

Starbucks' employees, which are referred to as "partners" by the company, have long complained that understaffing has affected morale and productivity at chains.

While the company has set forth new initiatives, a two-year agenda called North Star, aimed at improving speed and customer service at its locations, baristas said last week that the strategy has yet to address their chief concern: a lack of labor.

Some 75 percent of "self-identified" partners polled by Coworker.org, a petition site that Starbucks baristas used to bring labor issues to the company's attention last year, said that their stores were still not staffed to meet the goals of North Star. The survey included responses from 184 people who identified themselves as Starbucks baristas.

"All of our metrics show we are moving in the opposite direction of what the survey claims," Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges said, according to Reuters. "Over the last eight months, we've added labor to about 15 percent of our stores and are looking to add more in the months ahead."

Other complaints from baristas have centered around Starbucks' limited-time beverages, like the Unicorn Frappuccino, which was a highly sought-after treat that was both time-consuming and complicated to make.

In a letter to employees, CEO Kevin Johnson said Helms is "ideal" for the role of chief partner officer.

"During her years at Starbucks, she has held a variety of important positions that have, in sum, given her a comprehensive understanding of Starbucks operations and our unique culture," he said. "As many of you already know, to work with Lucy is to understand her profound passion for partner advocacy."