Report: Starbucks must rehire fired workers in Memphis

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Starbucks was dealt a setback in a court struggle over seven fired employees.

A federal judge is reportedly ordering Starbucks to reinstate seven terminated employees who played a leading role in unionization efforts.

According to the Associated Press, a U.S. District Court Judge in Memphis, Tenn. has issued a ruling requiring the coffee giant to rehire seven associates at a Memphis store who were fired in February 2022 for allegedly violating corporate policies through actions such as having the store open past official closing time and allowing a TV crew to film inside.

In May 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requested the federal court to intervene, saying Starbucks had never opposed such activities at the store until employees began making efforts to organize. Starbucks has publicly opposed the ruling, which requires the employees to have their jobs reinstated by Tuesday, Aug. 23, and says it will file an appeal.

“These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a secure work environment and safety standards,” Starbucks said in a statement to the Associated Press on Thursday, Aug. 18. “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.”

In its own statement, the NLRB praised the court ruling.

“Today’s federal court decision ordering Starbucks to reinstate the seven unlawfully fired Starbucks workers in Memphis is a crucial step in ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, can freely exercise their right to join together to improve their working conditions and form a union,” NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in the statement. “Starbucks, and other employers, should take note that the NLRB will continue to vigorously protect workers’ right to organize without interference from their employer.”

Starbucks alleges union vote misconduct
Starbucks and the NLRB have been butting heads over efforts by its employee to unionize. The retailer recently made serious allegations against the board in a letter to the National Labor Relations Board chairman and general counsel claiming misconduct on the part of NLRB officials relating to a recent Starbucks unionization vote in the Kansas City market.

In the letter, Starbucks said that officials from the NLRB worked with representatives of the Starbucks Workers United union to conduct in-person voting at NLRB offices while mail-in balloting to determine whether Kansas City area Starbucks workers could join Starbucks Workers United was being conducted.

According to the letter, a whistleblower informed Starbucks of the alleged inappropriate union-related activity. Starbucks also cited emails it said were exchanged between Starbucks Workers United and NLRB officials. Also alleging similar misconduct in union voting at Starbucks stores in Seattle and Buffalo, the letter requests a pause in Starbucks organizing activity until an investigation can be conducted.

To date, approximately 200 of Starbucks's approximately 9,000 U.S. stores have voted to unionize. In May 2022, Starbucks announced a new round of pay hikes and other benefits for employees that included the average hourly wage going up $17 per hour, and a 7% pay increase to employees with more than five years of experience. 

However, the company said the new benefits will not apply to workers at the locations that have voted to unionize. Such changes at unionized stores would have to come through bargaining, the retailer noted.