A U.S. judge has ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven coffee shop workers in Memphis, Tennessee, who were allegedly fired for supporting a union organizing drive, as the coffee chain fights to stop pending national union elections .
City District Judge Sheryl Lipman said the U.S. National Labor Relations Board had provided ample evidence that the firings earlier this year were motivated by anti-union animus. Lipman granted the order pending the outcome of an administrative case before the board.
The Memphis store is one of about 220 Starbucks locations in the United States to unionize in the past year. Workers at 46 sites voted against unionization and dozens more elections are underway.
Starbucks said in a statement Thursday that it disagrees with the decision and plans to appeal. The company said the workers were fired for violating company safety policies and that it respected the unionization process.
In a statement, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo called the decision “a crucial step in ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, can freely exercise their right to join together to improve their working conditions.” and form a union.
In May, the NLRB took the rare step of seeking an order in federal court in the Memphis case, as allegations that the workers were unlawfully terminated played out before an administrative judge.
The board is considering dozens of other complaints alleging Starbucks interfered with workers’ organizing rights in various ways, including closing stores and firing or disciplining union supporters.
In a letter to NLRB officials on Monday, Starbucks accused board staff of inappropriately assisting the union and called for a nationwide suspension of elections pending the outcome of an investigation.