Parental leave is inherently tied to class in the U.S. Big companies in the U.S. appeal to employees by offering generous parental leave packages to attract elite employees. Parental leave is treated as a “fringe benefit” like in-office massages and cookie trolleys. But many employees in the U.S. are unlikely to get any parental leave at all, even if they work for those same big companies. Now some Starbucks baristas are pushing back because the company’s parental leave benefits do not apply equally to all its employees.

Netflix famously offered a year of parental leave to all employees who become parents, but that leave did not apply to employees in customer service or the people packing and shipping DVDs.

Starbucks gives baristas maternity leave

Back in January, Starbucks made headlines for its decision to give female baristas six weeks of paid leave. The benefit applies to “birth mothers,” so does not extend to adoptive parents or fathers. It is, however, still extremely progressive for a retail operation in the U.S.

Starbucks’ maternity leave policy for baristas is extremely generous, for the U.S. It’s virtually unheard of for foodservice or retail employees who work hourly in the U.S. to get any type of paid parental leave at all.

But just because the benefit is better than literally getting nothing doesn’t mean baristas haven’t noticed that the company’s executives are getting a lot more than they are.

Starbucks’ corporate employees who give birth will get 16 weeks of fully paid leave. Corporate employees who become parents because their partner gives birth, or through adoption or fostering, will get 12 weeks of fully paid leave.

Corporate employees get more paid parental leave

According to The Guardian, some Starbucks baristas and managers take issue with the unequal benefit and are petitioning the company to make the parental leave policy more equitable.

“It is in no way fair to the average worker,” Starbucks barista Jess Svabenik told The Guardian. “You can’t have corporate without us. So why would one have a better benefit than the other?”

Several Starbucks employees met with the company earlier this summer to petition them to make parental leave a universal policy, not an “elite” benefit. But the company did not give them much in the way of answers.

“From a retail perspective, our (parental-leave) benefit is one of the best in the industry, if not the best,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement.

That is completely true. Starbucks’ policy is exponentially more generous to its store employees than most of the big foodservice and retail chains. Those employees don’t get anything, even though the corporate employees get a comparatively generous amount.

Many U.S. employees don’t get paid parental leave at all

This just illustrates how much parental leave in the U.S. is an issue of social class. The U.S. is frequently called one of the worst countries in the world for paid parental leave. In France, Germany, Japan, Canada, etc., paid parental leave is an official policy, not an employer’s perk. When issues of parental leave are left up to individual companies, parental leave becomes a nifty bonus for upper-middle-class employees. But paid leave is important for healthy babies in every socioeconomic sphere, and a lot of the people not getting any paid leave are the people who need it the most.

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(Image: iStockPhoto / fabio lamanna)