Starbucks fires Memphis workers planning to unionize after company says they broke policy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Several Memphis Starbucks workers are without a job less than a month after they joined the growing movement to unionize.

Employees at the Poplar Ave. store near Highland St. told FOX13 that almost the entire organizing committee has been let go.

They believe it’s an attempt by Starbucks to retaliate against the workers who were leading the union effort.

However, a spokesman for the company claims that’s not the reason and instead he said they were fired for violating store policies.

“This morning one of the other baristas called me, and she said, ‘Hey, I just got fired this morning,’” Nabretta Hardin, a former barista for the location said.

Less than a month ago, Hardin joined the effort to unionize and fight for better working conditions.

Hardin learned she and at least six of her co-workers are now without a job.

“Usually, there’s a process you have to go through, a sit-down with your manager, and then you get written up and fired. Well, none of that happened, and they went straight to investigation and fired,” she said.

Hardin said she and the six other employees spoke with a news outlet last month inside the store before closing time about their decision to unionize.

She speculates that’s why they’ve been let go.

“They didn’t outright say ‘We’re letting you go because of the news broadcasting,’ but I do know previously they were doing an investigation on us being there,” Hardin said.

However, a spokesman with Starbucks corporate told FOX13 that employees are never punished for talking to the media.

He said the workers were let go after an investigation determined several of them violated safety policies, including opening a locked door after business hours and allowing other people inside the store when it was closed.

“We’ve had customers and partners stay in our store after closing before. This is not new knowledge, and we’ve done it with management’s permission and everything. So, it’s not something we’ve gotten in trouble for before,” Kylie Throckmorton, who worked as a shift supervisor for the store, said.

Though she’s no longer with the company, she’s continuing to fight for her co-workers that still are.

“Just because I’m not behind the counter anymore doesn’t mean I’m not going to be there for my partners. I’m still going to sit up at the store and make sure they feel supported, and I am going to do everything I can to push this and help educate people and push this and keep going as best I can,” Throckmorton said.

Throckmorton said she and several of the other employees who were fired have an attorney and will be doing what they can to get their jobs back.

You can read the whole statement from Starbucks about why the employees were fired here:

“Starbucks takes safety and security seriously. Our safety and security policies are in place to protect partners and to protect our customers and the communities we serve. Our partners’ safety and security are of utmost concern. These policies protect partners as we have experienced tragic events when these policies have been violated. All partners are aware of these policies, and receive training related to them. This training clearly states that violating these policies may result in termination.

When we were made aware of several safety and security violations at our Poplar/Highland Starbucks store, we opened an investigation. Our investigation revealed that partners violated numerous policies, including maintaining a secure work environment and safe security standards.

To be clear:

  • Several partners remained in the store and opened a locked door after the close of business without permission or authority.
  • Non-partners and those who are not on shift or otherwise not actively closing the store are not allowed access to the store when it is closed for business. Despite this, partners allowed unauthorized individuals into the closed store.
  • Partners also let these unauthorized individuals behind the line and in the back of house while leaving the unlocked door unattended.
  • One partner also opened the store safe when the partner was not the designated cash controller and another allowed this violation to occur.

These egregious actions and blatant violations cannot be ignored. As a result of our investigation, several partners involved are no longer with Starbucks given the significant violations of these policies.”

Senator Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, offered the following statement regarding the employee’s termination.

“We live in America, the land of the free, where we value work and it’s illegal to fire people for forming a union. Working people deserve the same freedom CEOs have: the freedom to negotiate a fair return on their work.”