Starbucks Is Ordered to Reinstate Fired Activist Employees

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A federal judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven employees who were fired in February after they spearheaded efforts to unionize the branch in Memphis where they worked.

The workers, who refer to themselves as the Memphis Seven, were fired after the company said they violated safety and security policies. Judge Sheryl H. Lipman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee gave Starbucks five days to rehire the employees in response to the lawsuit filed by M. Kathleen McKinney, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board.

Jennifer Abruzzo, the labor board’s general counsel, described the decision as “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.”

In a statement, Starbucks said it would appeal the court ruling and seek to stop from having to reinstate the workers.

“These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a secure work environment and safety standards,” Starbucks wrote in a news release. “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.”

After the employees were fired, Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, pointed to a photograph on Twitter that showed the employees had let media representatives into their store for interviews while some employees were not wearing masks, which Mr. Borges said took place after hours. Two of the fired employees said some of the alleged violations were common practices that they had not been previously disciplined for.

“Fighting the stigma that Starbucks has put out there on our names has been hard and detrimental to my reputation around the country,” said Nabretta Hardin, 23, who is one of the fired employees. “For us to win our injunction and for us to get our jobs back, that’s amazing and that’s huge especially for the South when it’s so hard to unionize.”

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