Starbucks fires 7 employees involved in union effort after TV interview at Memphis store – The Washington Post

Borges noted a photo posted to Twitter showing the employees giving the interview after hours and said the front door was also left unlocked at the store.

“Our safety and security policies are in place to protect partners and to protect our customers and the communities we serve,” he said. “These egregious actions and blatant violations cannot be ignored.”

But Starbucks Workers United, the group helping Starbucks stores unionize, says the company is “union busting” and retaliating against local leaders in the unionization efforts. A union spokesperson told The Post that Starbucks fired five out of the six union committee leaders and two other workers who are also pro-union.

“If Starbucks had consistently fired people for the violations they fired Memphis workers over, they would have a hard time keeping many people on staff at all,” Starbucks Workers United spokesperson Casey Moore said in a statement.

Kylie Throckmorton, one of the fired employees, told The Post that Starbucks had “messed up big time” and vowed to fight back against the company’s decision.

“We’re going to make sure Starbucks can’t do this to another store,” Throckmorton said.

Borges disputed the accusation that company rules were selectively enforced, saying the Memphis workers were trained on store security and alerted that violating the policy could result in dismissal.

Starbucks Workers United filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday night, accusing the company of illegally firing the Memphis workers. The NLRB found last year that Starbucks had unlawfully retaliated against two baristas in 2019 and 2020 who sought to unionize a Philadelphia store — unlawfully spying on protected conversations and firing them. The company is challenging the ruling.

While Starbucks Workers United said it is confident that the fired workers in Memphis “will be reinstated with back pay,” Borges said it should be a “pretty slim” chance the staffers would be rehired if they decided to apply for a job at Starbucks.

The firings come months after Starbucks workers in Buffalo became the first unionized location among the coffee giant’s 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States. Since then, labor organizers say more than 50 other stores nationwide are pursuing union elections.

Throckmorton said the idea to unionize the store where she worked, near the University of Memphis, came shortly after what unfolded in western New York. In her almost two years there, Throckmorton said workers regularly operated in what she described as “hazardous conditions,” with fridges leaking water and causing employees to slip and fall. She alleged that the company did not address employee concerns. Borges said the company “had taken immediate action on the issues raised that this partner had raised to make sure they were addressed.”

Throckmorton said: “We saw the unionization fire that started spreading from Buffalo, and we decided we had to make a push here.”

In January, seven employees gave a television interview inside the Memphis location in an effort to “help people understand what was going on in the store,” Throckmorton said. During that time, Borges said, the employees blatantly violated several company policies, including opening a locked door at the store, allowing unauthorized media members inside after closing and in areas where access is restricted, and staying inside without authorization after hours. Borges said an employee also opened the store safe when that person “was not the designated cash controller.”

“Anyone who isn’t a partner or any partner who is not on shift is not allowed access to the store after hours, full stop,” Borges said. “That’s a clear violation, and we have video footage that shows that.”

But the workers argued that some of the alleged violations were common practices at the store — and that they had not been previously disciplined for them.

“We did not break policy,” Throckmorton said, noting that employees have had people in the store after hours previously and did not face consequences.

Shortly after the interview, Starbucks conducted an investigation and interviewed the seven employees, Borges said. The spokesman emphasized that the company has not disciplined employees for giving interviews in the media or for seeking to unionize.

“There’s nothing you can point to when we’ve gotten in partners’ ways to stop them from unionizing,” Borges said.

On Tuesday morning, the Memphis employees were asked by a manager to come into the store for one-on-one meetings to talk about “what the store was going to look like” moving forward, Throckmorton said. When they arrived, the workers were met by Starbucks officials who told them they were fired for multiple reasons — none of which involved the unionization efforts.

“They told me it was time for me to go,” Throckmorton said, adding how she and her six colleagues were “extremely upset.”

News of the firings has been met with blowback locally and nationally. Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat representing Memphis, supported the workers in a statement to WREG, saying, “We live in America, the land of the free, where we value work and it’s illegal to fire people for forming a union.”

A GoFundMe started by Starbucks Workers United in support of the fired Memphis workers has raised about $39,000 as of early Wednesday afternoon.

“If Starbucks thought this would silence us — they are very much mistaken,” organizers wrote. “Our movement is only getting stronger, and we know that we will win our jobs back, our union, and our fundamental human and civil right to organize.”

Throckmorton relied heavily on the Starbucks job and took a semester off from the University of Memphis to help with the unionization effort. She said the unionization push at the Memphis store was reinvigorated after she and her colleagues were fired. The 20-year-old already has another job lined up at a local coffee shop but is planning to spend even more time to get her former Memphis Starbucks colleagues unionized.

“Now that we’re gone, everyone is upset about this, and everyone is pushing to get unionized,” she said. “I’m no longer going to be supporting Starbucks, but I support the people there.”

Greg Jaffe, Eli Rosenberg and Joanna Slater contributed to this report.

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