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A federal judge on Thursday ordered the immediate reinstatement of seven Starbucks baristas in Memphis who were fired earlier this year after speaking to a local TV station about their union campaign, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed.
The National Labor Relations Board had filed an appeal against the layoff in Tennessee’s Western District, and Judge Sheryl H. Lipman agreed the workers should get their jobs back.
“I’m so happy with this result,” said Florentino Escobar, one of the fired Starbucks baristas. “This is another step in making Starbucks a better place.”
In the face of a fierce anti-union campaign led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the ruling marks a crucial victory for Starbucks’ unionization campaign, one of the most promising movements workers have seen in a generation.
Efforts to unionize at Starbucks have contributed to a significant surge in union registrations this year, including first-time union victories at Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple retail stores.
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Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said the company respects the union process and will “negotiate in good faith” but would also appeal the verdict and seek a stay of the order, which could result in a pause in reinstatement pending review finished.
“We strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling in this case,” Borges said. “These individuals have violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a safe work environment and safety standards. Interest in a union does not absolve partners from following policies designed to protect partners, our customers and the communities we serve.”
Last week, Starbucks called on the NLRB to “immediately suspend all Starbucks absentee ballots statewide” after a whistleblower reported that NLRB employees in Kansas had interfered with the voting process.
“Howard Schultz thought he could scare a nation of baristas by firing the Memphis organizing committee,” said Richard Bensinger, one of the lead organizers of the Starbucks Workers United campaign. “Fortunately, a federal judge ruled that Schultz is not above the law.”
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All seven fired baristas in Memphis voted to join Starbucks Workers United, which is part of Workers United. Five of them were on the organizing committee. The NLRB announced in June that workers at the Memphis store voted 11 to 3 to unionize.
More than 220 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since last December. According to the NLRB, 47 stores voted against unionization.
Meanwhile, Starbucks has fired at least 75 union leaders and union baristas, according to Starbucks Workers United, which is having a chilling effect on new union election materials, the union said.
The NLRB has filed more than 19 complaints against Starbucks for violating workers’ union rights, according to the agency. The agency is also investigating more than 286 allegations of unfair labor practices, most of which are filed against Starbucks. Many include allegations that Starbucks illegally fired union organizers.
“Today’s decision by a federal court ordering Starbucks to reinstate the seven wrongly laid-off Starbucks workers in Memphis is a critical step in ensuring those workers and all Starbucks workers exercise their right to organize to improve their working conditions to improve and form a union, can exercise freely. NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement.