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Tipsheet

Classy: Starbucks Is Helping Addicts Properly Dispose of Used Needles

Starbucks has become a dumping ground of needles for drug addicts. The coffee company has decided to install needle disposal boxes for those who need them. 

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The move comes after more than 3,700 employees petitioned corporate, asking for the boxes. Many feared they would be poked by used needles and exposed to a number of diseases. 

Here's what the petition said:

Exposure to HIV/AIDS, Hep C, Hep B, etc. is a risk in Seattle where there is a heroin/hep c crisis. There is no vaccine for Hep C, and Starbucks refuses to comment when employees mention this risk. Employees risk getting poked, and DO get poked, even when following "protocol" of using gloves and tongs to dispose of used needles left in bathrooms, tampon disposal boxes, and diaper changing stations. It costs almost two thousand dollars just for one round of after-exposure shots, not including other tests, shots, medications, etc. Employees have to pay out-of-pocket for this before being reimbursed until Starbucks's company insurance kicks in. Many baristas cannot afford that, instead resorting to loans and credit cards. Employees who are pregnant or already immuno-compromised have an added risk if poked by a used needle. Employees also have to then use added protection with their sexual partners/spouses for six months minimum/risk exposing them, too. Starbucks makes various excuses from "it looks bad" to "drug users will just take the boxes off the walls and steal the needles." Employees cannot legally be forced to remove needles, but when they ask to call hazmat, they're told "hazmat cost comes from the individual store budget" (a veiled threat of even less staff coverage on an already short-staffed floor because no money to pay them if it is used for hazmat). Making coffee should not come with this kind of easily detoured risk.

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In addition to installing the boxes, they're also planning on using heavier-duty trash bags and removing trash cans from certain bathrooms.

"These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations, which is why we have protocols and resources in place to ensure our partners are out of harm's way," Starbucks representative Reggie Borges told Business Insider.

Although the company teaches employees how to safely remove of hypodermic needles, not all feel comfortable with performing the task, something Borges said is optional. 

"I can't emphasize enough that if our partners are ever in a position where they don't feel comfortable completing a task, they are empowered to remove themselves from the situation and alert their manager, " Borges said. "As we always do, we are constantly evaluating our processes and listening to partner feedback of ways we can be better."

Employees who feel unsafe or uncomfortable performing such tasks are encouraged to speak with their managers and won't be forced to complete the assigned duty.

A few Seattle locations currently have the disposal boxes because of the drug epidemic problem. Some of the Baristas have had to take antiviral medications to protect themselves from HIV and hepatitis because of the exposure they faced. The saddest part? Encountering these needles has become a normal, everyday occurrence on the job.

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Some are blaming Starbucks' new policy, which began late last Spring, which allowed anyone to use the company's bathrooms, including those who are not paid customers. 

"I think the bathroom policy has definitely changed the store's environment," one manager who works at a Starbucks location in Southern California told Business Insider. "It's great that Starbucks wants to try and include everyone, but that means that they include absolutely everyone."

In addition to finding needles, employees are finding drugs, needles or blood, which forces them to close the bathrooms. 

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