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Judge orders Starbucks to reinstate seven fired baristas

Aug. 18, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 18, 2022 at 5:19 p.m.

Cartons of Starbucks Nespresso are shown in this 2020 photo.   (Bloomberg )
Cartons of Starbucks Nespresso are shown in this 2020 photo.  (Bloomberg )
By Lauren Kaori Gurley Washington Post

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 Western District of Tennessee, and Court 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.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously told the Washington Post that the firings of the workers in Memphis were unrelated to their unionization efforts, citing “significant violations” of safety and security policies.

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.”

All of the seven fired baristas in Memphis were in favor of a union with Starbucks Workers United, a branch of Workers United said. Five of them were on the organizing committee.

The NLRB announced in June that workers in Memphis at the store had 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 National Labor Relations Board.

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

The NLRB has issued 19 complaints against Starbucks for violating workers’ union rights, according to 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 workers involved in organizing.

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

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