Starbucks just lost one of its most publicized labor battles

A Starbucks in Memphis, Tennessee, voted decisively for a union on Tuesday, more than three months after seven workers there were fired after doing a local TV interview inside the store.

The store on Poplar Ave. and Highland St. voted 11-3 in favor of a union, after the National Labor Relations Board counted ballots cast by mail last month. “Workers today showed @Starbucks what solidarity looks like,” Starbucks Workers United, the union representing the workers, said in a tweet after the vote.

Nabretta Hardin, a barista and one of the “Memphis Seven” who was fired in February, told VICE News after the vote that the victory was “incredible.”

“It’s so exciting and we expect more stores to try to unionize in Memphis,” Hardin said in a text message.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the result.

After Starbucks fired Hardin and six of his coworkers, alleging the workers violated safety and security protocols, the workers filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB, claiming Starbucks retaliated against them. for their trade union activity. More than a dozen workers across the country claimed they were fired in retaliation for organizing activities.

In May, the NLRB filed an injunction in federal court to immediately reinstate the workers, with the NLRB’s New Orleans regional manager calling Starbucks’ conduct “flagrant” and saying it is “crucial that these seven employees be reinstated and Starbucks cease operations. unlawful behavior immediately so that all Starbucks workers can fully and freely exercise their labor rights. Memphis 7 workers’ ballots were counted as part of the tally on Tuesday; their court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

NLRB officials have also accused Starbucks of retaliating in Buffalo and Phoenix, using methods such as selective reporting for violations such as dress codes and attendance, suspensions and firings to get rid of union organizers. Starbucks has repeatedly denied the charges. Starbucks Workers United filed more than 100 unfair labor practice charges against the company, accusing it of retaliation; Starbucks officials last week said they would close a store in Ithaca, New York, just two months after workers there voted to unionize.

“I think the high profile layoffs are the reason we were successful. They tried to use it as a scare tactic, that ‘it’s going to happen to you if you unionize,’ but they just made our store stronger,” Memphis 7 fellow Nikki Taylor said during a press conference after the vote. . “Seeing us get fired immediately hurt everyone in our store. »

The store is the 124th in the United States to vote to unionize, according to the More Perfect Union labor outlet, which tracks Starbucks union votes; more than 85% of stores that have voted so far have voted in favor of unionization. The Memphis store is the second in Tennessee to unionize, after a Knoxville store voted to join a union earlier this year.

Unionized workers at Starbucks in Memphis referenced the city’s rich labor history, including Kellogg workers who struck for a new contract last year and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike that prompted Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Memphis before his assassination.

“Memphis is going to be a new place for unions, just like in history,” Beto Sanchez, former Starbucks shift manager and Memphis 7 member, said at the press conference. “The streets we walk on today are marked by unity, and we are just keeping it together. »

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