Skip to content Skip to footer

Starbucks Fires Seven Union Organizers in Memphis, Sparking Outrage

The union has filed a complaint with the labor board saying that the move is illegal.

A Starbucks coffee shop's sign is seen on June 11, 2021, in Miami, Florida.

On Tuesday, Starbucks fired seven workers at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, that recently filed for unionization. The terminated workers make up almost the entirety of the store’s organizing committee, according to the union.

The company claims that it fired workers for violating several safety and security policies. But workers at the Poplar and Highland store say that many of the policies have never been enforced and that their supposed violations aren’t fireable offenses. Workers also pointed out that it’s ironic for Starbucks to claim to be concerned about worker safety when the company’s refusal to address safety concerns is one of the primary reasons why workers have been organizing.

Starbucks Workers United has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), saying that the firings are retaliation for the workers’ unionizing efforts and are therefore illegal. Labor law prohibits companies from retaliating against workers for exercising their right to organize.

“I was fired by Starbucks today for ‘policies’ that I’ve never heard of before and that I’ve never been written-up about before,” Nikki Taylor, a shift supervisor at Poplar and Highland, said in a statement. “This is a clear attempt by Starbucks to retaliate against those of us who are leading the union effort at our store and scare other partners.”

The union called the firings the company’s “most blatant act of union-busting yet.” According to the union, the company is retaliating against workers who invited media into the store to conduct interviews after hours. In response, management pulled workers off the floor and called them in on their days off to have one-on-one meetings — meetings that union organizers say were meant to pressure workers against unionizing.

“Starbucks is using policies that have never been enforced, such as going behind a counter when a partner is not officially working, to fire workers,” the union said. “Starbucks chose to selectively enforce policies that have not previously been consistently enforced as a subterfuge to fire union leaders.”

The workers that were fired made up about 35 percent of the workers in the store, according to Starbucks Workers United. The company has disputed that it fired workers for talking to the media.

Amy Holden, a former manager of Poplar and Highland, told More Perfect Union that the terminations are “definitely union-busting.” “We do not move straight to termination for anything that is not considered egregious,” Holden said. Instead, for smaller policy violations, managers talk to employees to correct the action.

At least one of the policies that the company cited to fire employees was not a Starbucks policy at all, according to Holden. Employees were fired for entering the back room while they were off the clock — but Holden says employees are allowed to access the room even after clocking out so that they can request time off, access pay stubs or retrieve items they’ve left behind.

Poplar and Highland workers filed a petition for a union election last month. If the NLRB confirms that the policies that workers were fired for aren’t normally enforced or don’t typically lead to terminations, the company may be in legal trouble.

According to workers, the company has been waging a fierce anti-union campaign, pulling out classic union-busting tactics like sending managers to stores to surveil and intimidate employees. The company is also leveraging ongoing contract negotiations with the first two unionized stores, Elmwood and Genesee Street in Buffalo, New York, in order to discourage workers from voting for the union.

As HuffPost found, the company has hired at least 30 lawyers from notorious union-busting firm Littler Mendelson in order to disrupt the union campaign; companies will often spend tens of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to disrupt union drives rather than offer workers higher wages or better working conditions. So far, 68 Starbucks stores have filed to unionize, with more filings coming in every week.

We have 2 days to raise $29,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

We won’t pretend it’s the only thing you can or should do, but one small step is to pitch in to support Truthout — as one of the last remaining truly independent, nonprofit, reader-funded news platforms, your gift will help keep the facts flowing freely.