Starbucks on Tuesday fired a handful of employees in Memphis who were seeking to unionize their store, which is one of several dozen nationwide where workers have filed for union elections since December.
A Starbucks spokesman said the employees had violated company safety and security policies. The union seeking to organize the store accused Starbucks of retaliating against the workers for their labor activities.
The firings relate at least in part to an interview that workers conducted at the store with a local media outlet.
Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in an email that Starbucks fired the workers after an investigation revealed violations. He cited a photograph on Twitter showing that store employees had allowed at least one media representative inside the store to conduct interviews, in which some of the employees were unmasked and which he said had taken place after hours. “That is a clear policy violation, not to mention the lack of masks,” Mr. Borges wrote.
Among the violations, Mr. Borges said, were opening a locked door at their store; remaining inside the store without authorization after it had closed; allowing other unauthorized individuals inside the store after it had closed; and allowing unauthorized individuals in parts of the store where access is typically restricted.
He also wrote that one employee had opened a store safe when the employee was not authorized to do so and that another employee had failed to step in to prevent this violation. He said he could not confirm the precise number of workers fired because “conversations are ongoing” and more employees could still be terminated.
Starbucks Workers United, the union that represents workers at two stores in Buffalo, N.Y., and which is helping to unionize Starbucks workers across the country, said on Twitter that the company was “repeating history by retaliating against unionizing workers.”
A petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a union vote at the store says 20 employees there would eligible for membership.
A judge for the labor board found last year that Starbucks in 2019 and 2020 had unlawfully disciplined and fired two employees seeking to unionize a store in Philadelphia. Starbucks has appealed the ruling.
Wilma Liebman, who headed the labor board under President Barack Obama, said that to prove that the firings constituted unjust retaliation, the board’s general counsel would have to show that the workers were engaged in union activity and that the union activity played a “substantial or motivating” role in the decision to fire them.
One question in resolving the latter issue is whether Starbucks typically fires employees, whom it refers to as partners, over similar infractions, or whether the stated reasons were a pretext.
Mr. Borges, the spokesman, wrote: “We absolutely fire partners who let unauthorized people or partners in the store after hours and/or violate policies like letting others handle cash in the safe when not authorized to do so. This is a common, understood policy by partners as it brings an element of safety and security risk that crosses a number of lines.”
He did not immediately provide data on the number of employees fired for such violations in a typical year. A worker fired from the Memphis store said on Twitter that the policies had previously been unknown.