The case involving a Starbucks cafe in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of several legal disputes arising from a nationwide union campaign at the world’s largest coffee chain, whose labor practices are being investigated by the US Congress.
One of the first disputes to reach the Court of Appeals. Judges and the National Labor Relations Board have found in several cases that the company violated federal labor laws.
On Thursday, the 6th U.S. Open in Cincinnati, Ohio. Starbucks lawyers told a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court of Appeals that a judge erred in ruling that the firing of Memphis employees was motivated by anti-union sentiment.
The loss for Starbucks could sharpen scrutiny of its labor practices following a recent U.S. Senate investigation and a shareholder proposal to instruct the company to independently review its response to a union campaign.
The Memphis store is one of nearly 300 Starbucks cafes in the United States by late 2021. The company had been union-free for decades.
More than 540 complaints have been filed with the labor board accusing Starbucks of illegal labor practices such as firing union supporters, spying on employees and closing stores during union campaigns.
The company has generally denied wrongdoing, saying it pays its employees competitive wages and benefits and respects their rights under federal labor law.
Starbucks has argued that the Memphis workers were fired for violating the company’s safety policies and has said the company respects the union process. Despite not accepting the verdict, the company said it has reinstated the employees.
On Thursday, the company will argue that the fact that the Memphis store was eventually unionized proves that the layoffs did not improperly destroy support for the union.
A labor inspector said the order is important to ensure employees at the Memphis store and Starbucks nationwide continue to exercise their union rights.
Starbucks and Starbucks Workers United, the union running the nationwide campaign, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Starbucks is also appealing a February ruling in another case that ordered the company to stop firing or punishing employees at a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The judge in that case rejected the labor council’s claim that Starbucks had a company-wide anti-union policy.
During a Senate hearing in late March, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz defended himself and the coffee chain against accusations from Democrats that he was a “union buster.”
Republicans at the hearing supported Schultz, praising the company’s competitive wages, health care, employee stock purchase program and other benefits.
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