Why Starbucks Has Been Ordered To Give Some Workers Their Jobs Back

Maybe you visit Starbucks for its hot drinks. Maybe you even let out a squeal when its fall menu got leaked last month. Or, maybe the coffee giant's recent behavior has soured your appetite. Either way, this week, a significant shift in the tides has things looking up for Starbucks' pro-union employees.

The saga started in January when a Starbucks location in Buffalo, New York voted to unionize (via Associated Press), inspiring a wave of action that led 200 stores to unionize by July. The move comes at the beginning of a long-brewing push for workers' rights as, like the Associated Press says, "labor shortages are giving workers a rare upper hand in wage negotiations."

In May, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced plans to offer extended benefits, including improved sick pay and tips, to non-union employees, seemingly in an effort to dissuade workers from unionizing. Shultz justified the exclusivity by saying it would be illegal for him to "extend improved benefits unilaterally" because of American labor laws, as explained by CNBC. But, the company majorly backpedaled. In June, Starbucks announced plans to improve working conditions for all employees which, according to Starbucks Stories, included higher wages, "faster sick time accrual," a more relaxed dress code, and more opportunities for career mobility. But, the unionized stores were still not dissuaded to continue their efforts.

Now, due to the continued efforts of other employees, Starbucks has been ordered to give some workers their jobs back. Here's why.

Memphis Seven triumphantly rehired

As U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said on Twitter in December 2021, "If Starbucks can find the money to pay their CEO nearly $15 MILLION in compensation, I think that MAAAAAYBE they can afford to pay their workers a decent wage with decent benefits! Not a radical idea!" And, judging by a recent ruling, it looks like the law agrees. 

This week, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl Lipman ordered Starbucks to give seven Memphis employees their jobs back after wrongfully terminating them in February for pro-union activities (via The Hill). Earlier this year, the company was accused of using anti-union intimidation tactics in stores nationwide, including employee surveillance, interrogation, threats, and firing pro-union workers — behavior for which Starbucks was sued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on a number of occasions. The "Memphis Seven" were part of the collateral, and (per Lipman's ruling) Starbucks was given five days to reinstate them. 

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo says this ruling is a major win for the protection of aspiring union employees, calling 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," said Abruzzo, via The Hill. But, unsurprisingly, Starbucks doesn't agree: The company is planning to appeal the ruling, maintaining that the employees were fired for "violating company safety policies," per Reuters

The saga continues.