(The Hill) – A federal judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven workers at a Memphis store after finding the company illegally retaliated against them for helping organize a union.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl Lipman told Starbucks that it has five days to reinstate the employee, known as the “Memphis Seven,” who the coffee chain said was fired on February 8 for violating its safety policy. complaint from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“Today’s federal court decision ordering Starbucks to reinstate seven Starbucks workers who were wrongfully fired in Memphis is an important step toward ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, can freely exercise their right to join together to improve their working conditions and to form union.” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement.
“Starbucks, and other employers, should note that the NLRB will continue to protect workers’ right to organize without interference from their employers,” he added.
Starbucks countered that it fired the employee for violating company policy on Jan. 18, including by walking back to the counter while off duty and unlocking a locked door to allow unauthorized people to enter the store during off-duty hours.
The termination included five of the six members of the shop’s union organizing committee and two others involved in the business.
On the day of alleged policy infractions, employees said they passed out the union authorization card and sitting in the store with the television news crew about the efforts of union organizations. The organizing committee publicly published a letter addressed to the CEO of the company about the union one day in advance.
The NLRB argued that Starbucks terminated employees based on policies it did not consistently implement, saying it was a pretext for the company’s opposition to unions.
“We are very grateful that the federal court ruled in our favor, and this only shows that Starbucks will do everything in its power to silence us,” Nabretta Hardin, the main organizer of the terminated store, said in a statement.
The judge also agreed with the NLRB’s allegations that Starbucks violated federal labor laws in the lead-up to the termination, which it said included violations ranging from increased oversight from management during the organizing effort to remove pro-union literature from store community bulletin boards. .
“We strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling in this case,” Starbucks said in a statement, adding that it plans to appeal and request the ruling to delay reinstatements until after the review is complete.
“This individual violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a safe work environment and safety standards,” the statement continued. “An interest in a union does not exempt partners from following the policies in place to protect our partners, our customers and the communities we serve.”
Starbucks store in Buffalo becoming the first US location to merge in December. In court, employees at the Memphis store said they began organizing after hearing about Buffalo’s unionization efforts.
The coffee chain has seen dozens of additional stores set to merge, along with some organizing efforts leading to another lawsuit in localities across the country.
Starbucks on Monday asked the NLRB to temporarily suspend all union elections in his US location, citing allegations that the regional NLRB office improperly joined the union committee.