WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has asked a court to order the reinstatement of seven former Starbucks Corp employees in Memphis, Tennessee who it said were unlawfully fired for exercising their right to form a union.
New Orleans-based NLRB Regional Director Kathleen McKinney filed a petition on Tuesday in federal court in Memphis seeking injunctive relief, saying that Starbucks after learning about the organizing effort “directed a wide variety of coercive measures at its employees.” A judge on Wednesday set a hearing on the NLRB’s petition for a temporary injunction for Friday.
“Without immediate interim relief from this Court, Starbucks could irreparably harm the campaign in Memphis, and send a chilling message to its employees across the country that they too will suffer the same fate as the terminated Memphis employees if they dare to exercise their right to engage in protected activities,” McKinney said.
Starbucks said on Wednesday it “does not agree that the claims in the filing have merit” and, defending the firing of the workers, said its employees’ right to “organize does not exempt them from adhering to our policies. We will continue to enforce those policies equally for all partners.”
Unions are trying to build on their recent inroads among leading U.S. private employers including Starbucks and online retailer Amazon. Workers at more than 50 U.S. Starbucks cafes have elected to join Workers United, while five stores voted against the union, out of roughly 240 that have sought to hold elections since last August.
The NLRB said a mail-ballot election is ongoing at the Memphis store and the votes are scheduled to be counted on May 24. The NLRB said Starbucks responded to Memphis organizing efforts “forcefully with a barrage of unfair labor practices designed to purge the workplace of union supporters and quell employee activism in Memphis and nationwide.”
A group of 16 U.S. senators on Tuesday urged Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in a letter “to cease efforts to undermine unionization campaigns occurring at the company’s locations, and instead support employee-led union efforts nationwide.”
Starbucks last week asked for a meeting with President Joe Biden’s administration after unionized workers met with the him and others at the White House.
NLRB’s regional director for Buffalo, New York last week issued a complaint describing allegations of misconduct by Starbucks toward union members that constitute violations of U.S. labor law. Starbucks said the allegations in the complaint are false and lack merit.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)