Starbucks fired seven workers who were involved in unionizing in Memphis, Tennessee, fueling accusations that the company is retaliating against a growing labor movement at its locations across the United States.
Starbucks (SBUX) denied that the firings were linked to the employees’ organizing efforts. A company spokesman, Reggie Borges, said the workers were fired for serious security violations.
The firings stem from an incident last month in which the employees allowed members of the media into the store as part of the public launch of their unionization effort.
Borges told CNN Business that Starbucks employees are allowed to speak freely with media if they choose, but that the members of the press and some of the staff did not have authorization to be in the store after the close of business. The employees allowed the media into the private back-of-house area while leaving an unlocked door unattended, Borges said. Another staffer opened a safe when they weren’t authorized to do so.
“These egregious actions and blatant violations cannot be ignored,” Borges said in an email. “As a result of our investigation, several partners involved are no longer with Starbucks given the significant violations of these policies.”
Starbucks Workers United, the union helping several stores organize, accused the company of “union-busting” and selectively enforcing those policies to target union leaders.
“I was fired by Starbucks today for ‘policies’ that I’ve never heard of before and that I’ve never been written up about before,” said Nikki Taylor, a shift supervisor, in a press release from the union.
Borges disputed the accusation, saying that all Starbucks employees receive training related to store security, and are made aware that violating the policy may result in termination.
The Memphis firings come just two months after a cafe in Buffalo, New York, became the first American Starbucks to unionize. Labor organizers say more than 50 other stores across the United States are also pursuing union elections.
Even though the Buffalo effort affected just 100 employees, Starbucks fought hard against the effort, sending in the company’s top brass to try to influence the vote. The company argues that it already offers many benefits that others in the industry do not, including health care coverage for part-time workers and college tuition reimbursement. Its average wage is more than $12 an hour, the company says, adding that more than half of its US employees earn more than $15 an hour.