The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Judge orders Starbucks to reinstate seven fired baristas

The independent union Starbucks Workers United says that the coffee chain giant has fired more than 75 union leaders since December

From left, Richard Bensinger, who is advising unionization efforts, along with baristas Jaz Brisack, Brian Murray and Casey Moore discuss their efforts to unionize three Buffalo-area stores on Oct. 28. (Carolyn Thompson/AP)
3 min

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 a legal motion challenging the firing, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, and Judge Sheryl H. Lipman agreed the workers should get their jobs back.

“I’m so happy with this outcome,” said Florentino Escobar, one of the fired Starbucks baristas. “This is one more step to make 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 the campaign to unionize Starbucks, one of the most promising movements that labor has seen in a generation.

The efforts to unionize at Starbucks have contributed to a major increase in union election filings this year, including first-time union victories at Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple retail stores.

Amazon workers in Albany, N.Y., file for a union election

Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, said the company respects the union process and will “bargain in good faith,” but would also appeal the ruling and request a stay of the order, which could result in a pause of the reinstatement until the review is finished.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling in this case,” Borges said. “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.”

Last week, Starbucks requested that the NLRB “immediately suspend all Starbucks mail-ballot elections nationwide” following a whistleblower report that NLRB staffers in Kansas had interfered with election proceedings.

“Howard Schultz thought he could terrify an entire nation of baristas by firing the Memphis organizing committee,” said Richard Bensinger, a lead organizer of the Starbucks Workers United campaign. “Thankfully a federal judge has found that Schultz is not above the law.”

Trader Joe’s workers vote to unionize for the first time

All of the seven fired baristas in Memphis were in favor of joining 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 store in Memphis voted 11-3 to unionize.

More than 220 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since last December. Forty-seven stores have voted against unionization, according to the NLRB.

Meanwhile, Starbucks has fired at least 75 union leaders and unionizing baristas, according to Starbucks Workers United, creating a chilling effect for new union election filings, the union said.

The NLRB has issued more than 19 complaints against Starbucks for violating workers’ union rights, according to the agency. The agency is also investigating more than 286 unfair labor practice charges, most of which are filed against Starbucks. Many involve allegations that Starbucks illegally fired union organizers.

“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,” Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the NLRB, said in a statement.