Federal officials sue Starbucks to reinstate fired union activists

National Labor Relations Board officials have gone to federal court in a bid to get three Starbucks workers who are union activists back to work.

A regional board manager in Arizona filed a motion for a temporary injunction on Friday, saying Starbucks retaliated against three members of a labor organizing committee. Two of the workers were fired and the third was placed on unpaid leave, according to the filing.

Council leader Cornele Overstreet asked the court to reinstate the Starbucks workers with their normal working hours and their disciplinary records expunged.

Oversreet also requested that a senior Starbucks official be required to read the court order aloud in the presence of a board official, and that a video recording of the reading be made available to Starbucks workers across the country.

The board can apply to federal court for such an injunction when it believes that workers have been threatened during a union organizing drive and that such threats could cause “irreparable harm” if not stopped.

In this case, Overstreet argues that Starbucks’ actions have led to an atmosphere of retaliation and that workers could “irreversibly lose” board protections if something isn’t done quickly.

If granted, such an injunction would mark a significant victory for Workers United, the union that has been organizing Starbucks stores across the country since last year. The union accused Starbucks of retaliating against a number of union activists in order to chill the organizing campaign. In this case, labor commission officials have found merit in the allegations.

“In seeking an injunction, the labor board is arguing that Starbucks’ actions have led to an atmosphere of retaliation.”

Starbucks argued that disciplining Arizona workers was warranted.

“We absolutely do not agree with the assertions of the [labor board] in this complaint. These partners were terminated because they violated our established policies,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement. “A partner’s interest in union representation does not exempt them from the standards we have in place to protect the partners, customers and communities we serve.”

Shortly before Overstreet filed for the injunction in federal court, board officials filed a separate lawsuit Friday against Starbucks in the NLRB. That complaint was related to a group of Memphis, Tennessee, workers who were laid off, known as the Memphis 7.

Starbucks fired those workers in February after a local television station conducted an in-store interview with them about the organizing effort. Starbucks said workers violated company policy by allowing non-employees into the store while it was closed, among other alleged violations.

But a regional director for the New Orleans board, Kathleen McKinney, said Starbucks fired the seven employees because they “helped the union and engaged in concerted activities” which are protected by the labor law. She also said managers “confiscated and removed pro-union materials from the community bulletin board” at the store.

McKinney said Starbucks should have to give the laid-off workers “whole,” including “reimbursing them for any consequential damages they suffered as a result of [Starbucks’] unlawful conduct. »

The charge related to the Memphis workers would be argued within the NLRB. But it’s still possible council officials could go to federal court to seek an injunction like the one for the Arizona workers.

Starbucks has about 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States, which were unorganized until Workers United began organizing last year. So far, 26 stores have voted to unionize, and many more have asked the labor board to hold elections.

This story has been updated with comments from Starbucks.

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