Court Orders Starbucks to Rehire Fired Union-Organizing Employees

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 29, 2022

A Memphis, Tennessee, Starbucks store has been ordered by a Tennessee federal district court to rehire seven employees who it had fired during a union organizing campaign. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had petitioned the court for a temporary injunction ordering the company to reinstate the workers, claiming that the firings were unlawful retaliation for the employees' activity in support of the union.

A union election was held at the store and the workers voted for representation by Starbucks Workers United, a grass-roots union; the election was certified on June 15, 2022. In its petition for an injunction, the NLRB stated that after learning of the organizing effort, Starbucks directed coercive measures at employees, including:

  • Disciplining the employee responsible for starting the organizing campaign;
  • Subjecting employees to closer supervision;
  • Closing the open area of the store on days organizers had invited the public and customers to come show support for the campaign; and
  • Removing all pro-union materials from the community bulletin board inside the store, including notes from customers expressing support for the campaign.

The NLRB alleged that, following increased media coverage and public support for the campaign, Starbucks fired seven union activists on the same day, including five of the six members of the union-organizing committee.

In addition to rehiring the seven employees, the court ordered Starbucks to expunge the disciplinary actions from employees' records and cease and desist from any other anti-union practices. Starbucks has said it plans to appeal this decision.

After praising the court's decision, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said, "Starbucks, and other employers, should take note that the NLRB will continue to vigorously protect workers' right to organize without interference from their employer."

The National Labor Relations Act authorizes the NLRB to seek injunctions against employers and unions to stop unfair labor practices where - due to the passage of time - the normal Board processes are likely to be ineffective in remedying the alleged violations. In February 2022, Abruzzo issued a memorandum announcing an initiative to quickly investigate alleged threats or coercion made during an organizing drive and promptly seek injunctive relief.