In February, Starbucks fired seven union activists who were trying to organize a store in Memphis, Tennessee. Now that store is unionized.
The union Workers United decisively won an election to represent baristas at the store by a count of 11-3, according to a ballot tally held Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board. That makes the store one of roughly 120 Starbucks locations that have unionized in just a few months.
The campaign, known as Starbucks Workers United, has been organizing stores around the country, but the vote at the Memphis store at Poplar Avenue and S. Highland Street was one of the most closely watched due to the firings. The NLRB, which oversees private-sector union elections, has not yet certified the Memphis results.
In a tweet Tuesday, the campaign said “workers showed Starbucks what solidarity looks like.”
Starbucks terminated the seven workers after a local television crew filmed an interview about the union campaign inside the store while it was closed. The company said the firings were not because of the workers’ union activism, but because they ran afoul of store policy by letting non-employees into the store outside of business hours, among other alleged rule violations.
But a regional director for the NLRB accused Starbucks of retaliating against the “Memphis Seven.” The director filed charges against Starbucks that could lead to a trial before an administrative law judge with witnesses called. None of the allegations have been litigated yet.
Workers found to have been illegally fired can eventually be reinstated on the job, although the legal process often takes years.
The NLRB’s regional director has also gone to federal court seeking an injunction to put the seven Starbucks workers back on the job temporarily. Board officials can pursue such an injunction when they believe the board’s normal processes won’t be able to protect workers in the midst of an organizing campaign where the employer has broken the law.
The firing of the seven Memphis workers is part of a much larger legal fight between Starbucks and the union. Workers United accused Starbucks of waging a scorched-earth campaign meant to stifle the union’s momentum, while the company denies it has broken the law.
Another regional director for the NLRB recently hit the company with a sprawling complaint involving the firing of six other workers and the closures of two stores in Western New York. The complaint alleges that Starbucks illegally disciplined and surveilled workers who supported the union, and that CEO Howard Schultz broke the law by offering workers “an increase in benefits” if they declined to unionize.
A Starbucks spokesperson called those allegations false, saying the company “look[s] forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are adjudicated.”