Starbucks Fires Union Leaders In Memphis

The company says workers violated safety policies. The union is calling it retaliation.
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union election watch party on Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, New York.
Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union election watch party on Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, New York.
via Associated Press

Starbucks has fired several workers in Memphis, Tennessee, who were part of the growing unionization effort that’s spreading quickly through the coffee chain.

The campaign, Starbucks Workers United, said Tuesday on Twitter that the company had canned “virtually the entire union leadership in Memphis,” calling it a case of retaliation for their union support. The group said the total number of firings came to seven, or about a third of the workers at the store.

“The arc of Starbucks’ union-busting is long, but it bends toward losing,” the campaign wrote.

Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, said the company did not fire workers for organizing, but for violating safety and security protocols. He said workers opened the locked store after close of business without permission and let nonemployees in.

Several workers recently gave MWC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Memphis, an in-store interview about the union campaign.

Richard Bensinger, a longtime organizer involved in the Starbucks campaign, said on Twitter that the workers were fired “for talking to local tv reporters in their store!”

Borges said he wanted to make it “unequivocally clear” that the company didn’t fire the workers for talking to the media. “To suggest that is to completely ignore the clear violations of known policies that these partners openly acknowledged they were aware of as part of this investigation,” he said in an email.

But Nikki Taylor, a shift supervisor at the store, said in a statement through the union that she was “fired by Starbucks today for ‘policies’ that I’ve never heard of before.” She called the firing a “clear attempt by Starbucks to retaliate.”

The Starbucks workers have been organizing with the union Workers United, which plans to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board over the firings. The union would argue that the workers were illegally targeted because of their union support.

Such cases often come down to how vigorously the company has enforced the policies it cited for the terminations — that is, whether other workers have been fired for opening the store outside of shift hours, or for letting nonemployees into the store without manager approval. If those policies aren’t typically enforced, the union would likely argue that the firings were done out of anti-union animus.

“All I would say is I would love to see what the history is of the company enforcing these policies,” said Ian Hayes, a Buffalo, New York-based labor attorney who has been representing the Starbucks workers who are organizing.

The Starbucks union campaign began last year in Buffalo, where the union won elections at two stores, creating the only unionized corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country. The campaign has since spread rapidly, with workers at more than 50 other stores across the country petitioning the labor board for elections.

Starbucks has been doing whatever it can to slow the pace of the campaign. The company has more than 30 outside lawyers working on the election cases at the labor board, and Starbucks managers have been holding frequent meetings with workers to discourage unionization.

In a statement, Starbucks Workers United called the firings the “most blatant act of union-busting yet.”

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