Jul 28, 2014

Fort Belvoir Starbucks Charges Nine Employees Thousands for Drinks

Employees say coffee shop management secretly videotaped, and then charged them for consumed food and beverages.

Fort Belvoir Starbucks Charges Nine Employees Thousands for Drinks

Starbucks manager Stacy McDonald worked at the Fort Belvoir location for more than five years. As of Wednesday, she was fired after the company accused her of stealing $3.75 worth of merchandise while on the job.

Eight months pregnant, she has lost her health insurance and more than 200 hours of sick time that she was planning to use for maternity leave.

According to McDonald and some of her co-workers, the Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES), which operates the 12th Street Starbucks on base, secretly videotaped its employees and accused them of stealing beverages and pastries on the job—and is docking some employees thousands of dollars in pay for doing so.

AAFES Loss Prevention interviewed a total of nine Starbucks employees who were told they owed money to AAFES, ranging from $3.75 to $13,951, McDonald said.

Employee Discovers Hidden Camera

A current employee, who asked his name be withheld due to the ongoing investigation, was cleaning the store on Dec. 22 and discovered a wire leading to a hidden camera. The employee contacted a supervisor and told her what he had found. He said he was instructed to leave the camera in place.

The camera remained in the store until Dec. 27. After that, employees who spoke to Patch aren't sure what happened to it, but a store manager reportedly contacted AAFES Security Loss Prevention to inform them that the camera was gone.

When asked why the camera was placed in Starbucks, AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey said in an email to Patch, "While the Exchange does not discuss the specifics of active investigations or security procedures, mobile video surveillance is used when potential misconduct or fraud is identified."

On Dec. 30, barista Kiara McKnight of Woodbridge arrived for her shift and was summoned to a meeting with Karen Bye, AAFES Loss Prevention manager, and Leo Varghese, AAFES headquarters investigator.

When a confused McKnight arrived at the loss prevention office, Varghese told her she was there for an internal investigation, McKnight said.

“[Varghese] printed a promissory note saying I owed $663 worth of milk and lemonade for adding it to coffee and tea,” said McKnight. “I drove back to work and thought about it. I thought it wasn’t right, and I revoked my promissory note the next day I came into work.”

McKnight requested a copy of her time and attendance record, which showed she worked 40 weeks. Varghese and Bye had charged McKnight based on 52 weeks of employment, McKnight said.

When McKnight returned to work after recanting on her promissory note, she was summoned to HR and was placed on suspension, she said. All nine employees were placed on a 30-day suspension, according to McDonald.

“I’ve been depressed because they’re labeling me as a thief, when I’m not,” said McKnight.

Two Seperate Beverage Policies

Starbucks corporate and AAFES each have separate, differing beverage policies. Both policies are concurrently in effect, according to Janice Blackwell of the National Association of Government Employees, a union that represents the Starbucks employees.

AAFES's policy states that while employees are on shift, they are authorized to have unlimited brewed coffee, tea, and fountain soda.

However, Starbucks' policy allows free beverages during work hours only before or after a shift or during a break and they must be entered into the computer for inventory tracking. The expectation is every barista is to sample coffee, espresso, milk and pastries to ensure quality and knowledge to provide effective information to customers.

Blackwell said AAFES proposed changes to its policy in November 2011. In order to negotiate the proposed changes, Blackwell requested information from AAFES because she was unclear on the specifics of those changes.

"AAFES never provided such [information on the specific proposed changes to the policy], therefore, no change was to be made until such time as the Union had the opportunity to bargain," Blackwell said in an email to Patch.

"The policies were very general and all employees had an understanding of what they were able to use," Blackwell continued. "It's a very unfortunate situation, and the other part of that situation is that it's a very ambiguous meal policy."

Interviews, Suspensions and Appeals

When AAFES Loss Prevention placed the concealed security camera in the store, they should have informed the union of their plans as per protocol, Blackwell said.

"It's an unfair labor practice," she said. "We just feel management didn't do a good job in this investigation."

McDonald was also brought in for a loss prevention interview. Varghese told her that employees were being brought in for theft and consuming products. According to McDonald, when she asked if the thefts involved employees walking out of the store with beverages, Varghese said no.

McDonald quickly asked to be excused from the interview. “The reason I left quickly was because I felt the focus of the interview was to try to incriminate me in some way,” she explained. “Once I requested that I have a lawyer, because of [Varghese’s] accusation, and when my rights were denied, I was immediately uncomfortable and felt harassed, so I left to end the interview.”

McDonald plans to appeal AAFES’ decision to fire her.

The union has responded to the proposed AAFES action, but it plans to file a grievance once the final decision has been made, Blackwell said.

Editor's Note: The AAFES Beverage Policy includes “bulk dispensed” coffee, tea, or soda at a “self service drink station," according to Judd Anstey, AAFES spokesman.

UPDATE Feb. 4, 6:25 a.m.: Stacy McDonald was fired for drinking an iced coffee and the price, $3.75 was actually miscalculated by AAFES, said McDonald in an email to Patch.

UPDATE Feb. 24, 9:58 a.m.: The National Association of Government Employees plans to file a complaint against AAFES on behalf of the Starbucks employees who were videotaped and charged for consumed food and beverages.


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