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Starbucks Union Celebrates as Last of 7 Fired Memphis Organizers Is Reinstated

The reinstatement of the “Memphis Seven” comes as contract negotiations are beginning across stores.

People walk past activists as they participate in a picket line outside Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on July 19, 2022, in New York City.

The union behind Starbucks workers’ remarkably successful union drive is celebrating as a group of seven workers known as the “Memphis Seven” have been reinstated after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that they were illegally fired by the company.

According to Starbucks Workers United, the workers have all returned to their jobs at the now-unionized store as of Saturday, a “triumphant” win for the union, it said.

In February, Starbucks fired a group of workers at a unionizing store in Memphis, Tennessee, who the union said made up nearly the entirety of the organizing committee at the store. In a press release this week, the union said that the firings were the company’s response to the workers’ organizing efforts.

“Once Starbucks found out who these partners were, in relation to the organizing effort, Starbucks executed a typical pattern — sudden corrective-action-investigations, issuing threats, making false accusations, sudden enforcement of policy, and separation from the company,” the union wrote.

Labor officials found that the workers’ firing constituted illegal union busting this spring, and a judge ordered the company to reinstate the workers in August, finding “reasonable cause” in labor officials’ findings. NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo hailed the ruling, saying, “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 company has continually denied any wrongdoing.

The once-fired workers have vowed to keep fighting for the union and for the dozens of other union organizers that the company has fired in recent months. According to the union, the company has fired at least 130 other pro-union workers so far.

The win for Starbucks Workers United comes as their campaign, which has resulted in over 250 unionized stores up until this point, is potentially entering a new phase — one in which union filings are slowing down and legal filings and first union contracts are yet to be sorted out. Indeed, as The New York Times notes, while stores were once filing to unionize at a breakneck pace of over two stores a day, filings slowed to under 10 in August.

At the same time, workers are now getting a chance to negotiate with the company to form their first union contracts. Though employers are under a legal obligation to negotiate with a union once it’s formed, Starbucks has been delaying the process, with only three stores having had first bargaining sessions up until Monday.

Starting this week, workers at a handful of stores will be sitting down to bargain with the company; at least two dozen stores have set bargaining dates in the next six weeks. The union has said that workers will be seeking several demands, including non-interference by the company in future union elections, guarantees on the amount of hours that workers are scheduled for, an establishment of a labor committee in each store, and more.

Considering it took a pressure campaign from workers to get bargaining dates on the calendar, workers are not expecting the company to make concessions easily.

Indeed, workers who had their first bargaining sessions scheduled for Monday have already reported that company representatives have been late and have left bargaining sessions after just minutes. In Buffalo, in negotiations for the first store to ever unionize, the company refused to bargain after a few workers elected to join the session virtually.