Back in February, Starbucks made headlines with the most viciously racist union-busting move since the start of its union-busting campaign: the firing of the entire, mostly Black and Brown, union organizing committee at the Poplar and Highland store in Memphis, Tennessee. Now, six months later, these seven workers claimed a major victory over the company, when a federal judge ordered their reinstatement Aug. 18, giving the company five days to offer them their jobs back.
This is a huge victory, not only for the illegally fired Memphis workers, but for all the more than 75 Starbucks workers who have been fired as a result of their union advocacy.
Many workers are hoping that with support for the union spreading across the country, with over 220 unionized stores and an 82% success rate in elections, with increasingly militant strikes such as the strike in Boston, which has now been going strong for over five weeks, and now with a legal precedent for rehiring fired organizers, that other fired union supporters will have a chance at getting their jobs back — with back pay!
Starbucks, of course, opposed the judge’s decision, saying the company “strongly disagrees” and intends to appeal and delay the process. Delaying is a tactic used often by the company. On Aug. 15, Starbucks asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend new union votes, alleging that NLRB officials collaborated with the union.
This accusation is based on the claim that the NLRB allowed some workers, who did not receive mail ballots, to submit ballots in person during a mail-in vote at one store in Overland Park, Kansas. Starbucks Workers United responded by stating: “Unfortunately, it’s now in vogue for the losers of some elections nationwide to attempt to reverse elections by any means they think are necessary.”
The union pointed out that Starbucks claims to stand for voter protections, yet the corporation is moving to suppress union elections across the country. Up to this point, the line repeated by the company has been: “We want every partner to vote,” — unless of course the vote is for the union, then they will challenge it any way they can. Starbucks did this to the Walden-Anderson store in Buffalo, New York, where a revote was forced by the company after the workers won the previous election, despite the store being closed for over two months and with many pro-union workers forced out.
The revote ended with a loss for the union by only one vote, which clearly would have been a victory without the relentless union busting over the last few months. As a result of all this, the Walden-Anderson workers are on strike at the time of this writing.
Starbucks trying every trick to break union drive
The desperate move by the company to halt the elections by accusing the NLRB of colluding with the union comes off as nothing short of absurd to workers and the general public. When Starbucks blatantly violates labor law, resulting in hundreds of Unfair Labor Practice charges, routinely interferes with the right of workers to organize, fires and forces out hundreds of workers, and then is found guilty of illegal anti-union activity — as they were in the case of the Memphis Seven — that is not NLRB collusion with the union.
That is just what occasionally happens when a company breaks the law. All too often corporations get away with little more than a slap on the wrist from the toothless NLRB. A few rulings in favor of the union and accommodations made for receiving ballots in person for voters who did not receive mail-in ballots is hardly collusion.
These scurrilous accusations on the part of Starbucks, as with the firing of the Memphis Seven and so many others, are a flagrant attempt by a megacorporation to squelch the rising tide of labor solidarity sweeping the country. But this youth-led, multinational and multigendered working class is proving to be far more formidable than Starbucks and the capitalist class ever anticipated.
The writer is a Workers World contributing writer and a union committee organizer with Starbucks Workers United in Buffalo, New York.