Judge: Starbucks illegally fired workers for union activity


Starbucks must reinstate seven workers the company fired in Tennessee, after a federal judge found the terminations were illegal retaliation for protected organizing activities.

The workers, who were supporting a union campaign that launched Jan. 19 at their Starbucks in Memphis, were all fired on Feb. 8. Company managers were offended that the workers participated in a media interview from the store after it closed for the day. 

Workers United, the union Starbucks workers are affiliating with, filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the firings. In May, NLRB Regional Director Kathleen McKinney agreed that the company had illegally retaliated against the workers, and asked a federal court to force Starbucks to stop breaking labor laws.

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman, of the District Court of Western Tennessee, on Aug. 18 issued an injunction ordering Starbucks to rehire all seven workers by Aug. 23.

Starbucks, represented by attorneys from Littler Mendelson, has appealed the ruling. In an Aug. 23 filing, lawyers argued that rehiring the workers would cause the company “irreparable harm” and could lead to a “loss of goodwill.” The company claims other workers at the store have said they’ll quit if the fired union supporters return.

Despite the terminations, workers at the Memphis store voted 11-3 to unionize in ballots counted June 7.

The wave of Starbucks union campaigns launched on Aug. 30, 2021, when workers at three stores in Buffalo, New York announced their organizing efforts. One year later, 228 Starbucks stores nationwide have unionized with Workers United. Workers at 46 stores have voted against unionizing, and nine elections are tied up with challenged ballots.   


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