Aug 18, 2022 - Economy

Starbucks ordered to reinstate fired union activists

Demonstrators and supporters picket outside of Starbucks Coffee to demand better working conditions and unionization on Aug. 12 in Brookline, Massachusetts. Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A federal judge Thursday ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven baristas in Memphis who were fired earlier this year after speaking with local media about their union campaign.

Why it matters: Starbucks has come out squarely against labor movements in the country, including the over 220 stores that have voted to join the national union Starbucks Workers United. The company has faced multiple allegations of illegally interfering with workers' rights.

Details: Starbucks denied that the firings were related to unionization activities, but the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a legal motion challenging the company's actions.

  • Starbucks must reinstate the employees to their jobs within five days of the order, the judge ruled Thursday. If those roles no longer exist, the company must provide an equivalent position for the workers.
  • All seven of the fired baristas had been advocating for a union with Starbucks Workers United, the Washington Post notes. Five helped steer the organizing committee. The Memphis store voted to unionize 11-3 in June.

What they're saying: "Today's federal court decision ... 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," said NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo in a 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."
  • "It was a ruling in favor of what was right," Nikki Taylor, one of the seven baristas, said in a video message posted on Twitter. "We are so excited to be back."

The other side: The company said in a statement that though it respects the unionization process, "[w]e strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling."

  • "These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a secure work environment and safety standards. 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."

What to watch: Starbucks said it plans to appeal the decision and request that an appeals court review the ruling, which could put a pause on the timeline to reinstate the workers.

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