A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that Starbucks must offer reinstatement to seven workers in Memphis who were fired during a union event at their store earlier this year.
The “Memphis Seven”, as the workers were known, lost their jobs after participating in an in-store interview with a local television station about their union effort. Starbucks said it fired employees because they violated a store policy by letting non-employees into the store after hours, but Workers United, the barista union, said the termination was retaliatory.
The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board agreed with the union and attempted restitution for the workers, on the grounds that their firing was illegal and could have caused irreparable damage to their organization. US District Judge Sheryl Lippman injunction granted On Thursday, it said the firing was anti-Union, had “reasonable cause”, and there was clear evidence they had a chilling effect on the campaign.
In such a case, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether an employee has violated a company policy, but whether the company has a regular history of applying that policy in comparable situations. Lipman didn’t buy that Starbucks has such a track record.
The Labor Board “provided evidence consistent with the principle that Starbucks applied its policies in a discriminatory manner when eliminating the Memphis Seven,” she wrote. In particular, the evidence presented supports inconsistent enforcement of policies at issue.
“Starbucks must give workers their jobs back within five days of the order,” Lippman wrote. Starbucks said it plans to appeal the decision and seek a moratorium, which, if successful, could delay the reinstatement of workers.
Restoration is technically temporary, whereas the underlying matter regarding firing is prosecuted at the Board of Labor. But the injunction is a legal and public relations blow for Starbucks. The company has insisted that Labor Board officials have not broken the law despite filing at least 20 complaints for violations.
The injunction serves as a morale boost to the union’s campaign as it grapples with coffee chains in both shops and labor board hearings across the country. Members of the Memphis Seven, including activist Beto Sanchez, posted on Twitter Thursday to celebrate the judge’s decision and thanked supporters for standing with them:
Starbucks said Statement posted on its website that it “strongly disagrees”[s]With Lippmann’s verdict.
“These individuals violated multiple policies and failed to maintain a safe work environment and safety standards,” the company wrote. “Interest in a consortium does not exempt partners from the following policies that are in place to protect the partners, our customers, and the communities we serve.”
A federal judge previously turned down a similar effort by the board’s general counsel to seek reinstatement for Starbucks workers who lost their jobs in Arizona.
Workers United has organized more than 200 Starbucks stores since December, marking a remarkable event. None of the chain’s nearly 9,000 corporate-owned stores previously had union representation. The campaign, which began in Buffalo, New York, has since spread to states across the country, with company managers taking to the stores to discourage them from unionizing.
Memphis store workers eventually voted to unionize in June.
The General Counsel of the Labor Board, Jennifer Abruzzo, has alleged that Starbucks violated the law by firing some workers, closing stores, and offering workers benefits that the company denies if they choose not to unionize. does. Abruzzo said in a statement on Thursday that Lippman’s decision was “an important step toward ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, could freely exercise their right to improve their working conditions and join together to form a union.,
He called on other employers to “note” that the board would strictly enforce the law to protect workers’ rights.
Nabreta Hardin, another member of the Memphis Seven, said the reinstatement order “shows that Starbucks will do everything in its power to silence us.”
“We remain the only store in Memphis to be held in place because of workers’ fears,” Hardin said in a statement via the campaign. “We hope this decision will bring comfort to our partners in the Memphis area and show them the power they can have in a union.”