Federal judge orders Starbucks to rehire fired union organizers in Memphis
The "Memphis Seven" celebrate a federal judge's order compelling Starbucks to give them their jobs back after they were fired for leading a unionization drive. (Photo: Memphis Seven/Twitter)

Labor advocates on Thursday cheered a U.S. federal judge's order compelling Starbucks to reinstate seven employees who were illegally fired from their Memphis store earlier this year for leading a unionization campaign.

"We hope this ruling brings comfort to our partners in the Memphis area and shows them the power they can have in a union."

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman ordered Starbucks to rehire the so-called "Memphis Seven" within five days, writing that their firing "supports an inference of discriminatory motive" by the Seattle-based coffee giant. In May, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a motion to reinstate the workers, accusing Starbucks of directing "a wide variety of coercive measures" in its union-busting bid.

The seven workers at Starbucks' Poplar and Highland location were terminated in February during the early months of what has become a nationwide unionization wave in which employees at more than 200 of the company's stores have now voted to form unions.

While Starbucks officials claimed the seven were fired for violations including allowing at least one reporter inside the store to conduct an after-hours interview, the group accused the company of retaliating against the workers for organizing. In June, Poplar and Highland employees voted overwhelmingly to form a union.

"Today's federal court decision ordering Starbucks to reinstate the seven unlawfully fired Starbucks workers in Memphis is 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," NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement following the ruling.

"Starbucks, and other employers, should take note that the NLRB will continue to vigorously protect workers' right to organize without interference from their employer," she added.

Members of the Memphis Seven celebrated the ruling, with Nabretta Hardin saying in a statement that "we're beyond thankful the federal court ruled in our favor, and this just goes to show that Starbucks will do everything in their power to silence us."

"Memphis is a union town. We remain the only store to have organized in Memphis for fear of workers being fired like we were," she continued. "We hope this ruling brings comfort to our partners in the Memphis area and shows them the power they can have in a union."

"There is no need to fear retaliation because the NLRB will protect them as they have protected us," Hardin added.

Nikki Taylor, another member of the group, said following the decision that "it was a ruling in favor of what's right. We knew from day one that we were going to win this, it just took time."

Beto Sanchez, also of the Memphis Seven, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that "it still feels unreal right now, but it took a moment for me to process all the work that we've done for the past months, they finally met its resolution."

"I still have a lot of tears right now," added Sanchez, "but honestly it's such a great feeling."