Starbucks CEO to assess benefits if $15 hr minimum wage takes effect

by: Essex Porter Updated:

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SEATTLE - Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz weighed in on $15an hour as a minimum wage and what it might mean for the company's generous benefits package.  

“It's about building the kind of company that does have a conscience and is adding to society and the communities we serve,” Schultz told attendees at the company’s annual meeting at Seattle Center. 

He said Starbucks spent $250 million on health care, $234 million on stock options, and $50 million on retirement benefits. Employees, called partners, need work just 20 hours a week to qualify. 

But hanging over all that, the new demand for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle. Asked after the meeting if he is supportive of the higher minimum, Schultz replied, 

“What I’m supportive of is making sure everyone, not only in the City of Seattle, has an equal opportunity to earn as much as they possibly can.” 

Schultz said that when Starbucks totals up the amount it spends on pay, plus benefits for each employee, everyone earns more than $15 an hour "in addition to that we pay more than the minimum wage in also every place we do business. 

But if Starbucks were required to pay $15 an hour, those benefits could be at risk.

“If it goes to $15 an hour we'd have to assess whether or not we could continue to do those things,” Schultz said.

Schultz was joined at the meeting by special guest Oprah Winfrey. Because of Starbucks’ focus on social justice, she is lending her name to a special Chai tea that she helped to develop. 

Winfrey demurred when asked if she would encourage Schultz to support $15 an hour

“I'm really here to talk about tea,” she said. 

That new tea will be in stores in late April, just about the same time $15-an-hour supporters will decide whether to take the issue to the ballot.