A federal judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven employees at a Memphis store after finding the company unlawfully retaliated against them for helping organize a union.
U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Tennessee Sheryl Lipman told Starbucks she had five days to reinstate the employees, known as the ‘Memphis Seven’, whom the coffee chain said it had fired on February 8 for previously violating its safety policies, prompting a complaint from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“Today’s federal court decision ordering Starbucks to reinstate the seven illegally terminated Starbucks workers in Memphis is a critical step in ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, can freely exercise their right to organize. to improve their working conditions and form a union,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement.
“Starbucks and other employers should take note that the NLRB will continue to vigorously protect the right of workers to organize without interference from their employer,” she added.
Starbucks argued that it fired employees for violating company policies on Jan. 18, including going behind the counter during off hours and unlocking a locked door to allow an unauthorized person to enter. enter the store during off hours.
The layoffs included five of six members of the store’s labor organizing committee and two others involved in the effort.
On the day of the alleged policy violations, employees said they handed out union permission cards and sat in the store with a TV news crew on organizing efforts. The organizing committee had publicly posted a letter to the company’s CEO about the union the day before.
The NLRB argued that Starbucks terminated employees based on policies it did not consistently enforce, saying it was a pretext for the company’s opposition to the union.
“We are beyond grateful that the federal court ruled in our favor, and it just goes to show that Starbucks will do everything in its power to silence us,” said Nabretta Hardin, one of the store’s main organizers who been fired, in a statement.
The judge also agreed with the NLRB’s allegations that Starbucks violated federal labor laws prior to the layoff, which he said included violations ranging from increased management oversight during the organization to remove pro-union literature from the store’s community bulletin board. .
“We strongly disagree with the judge’s decision in this case,” Starbucks said in a statement, adding that it plans to appeal and seek a stay of the decision to delay reinstatements until the end of the year. ‘exam.
“These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a safe work environment and safety standards,” the statement continued. “Interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies that are in place to protect partners, our customers and the communities we serve.”
A Starbucks store in Buffalo became the first US site to unionize in December. In court, employees at the Memphis store said they started organizing after hearing about Buffalo’s organizing efforts.
The coffee chain has since seen dozens more shops seek unionization, with some organizing efforts resulting in further lawsuits in localities across the country.
Starbucks on Monday asked the NLRB to temporarily suspend all union elections on its US sites, citing allegations that NLRB regional offices were improperly coordinating with union organizers.