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New legal setback for Starbucks: Company must reinstate fired union organizers, appeals court says

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Photo by Lucy Garrett for MLB50 / Courtesy of The Memphis Seven @memphisseven901 Twitter
Photo by Lucy Garrett for MLB50 / Courtesy of The Memphis Seven @memphisseven901 Twitter

Starbucks must reinstate seven Memphis workers fired for their union activities, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on September 6.

The federal appeals court turned down a motion by Starbucks' lawyers to stay a lower court decision ordering the reinstatement of the group, known as the Memphis Seven. Starbucks must now reinstate the seven workers immediately.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, known as the Wagner Act, forbids employers from retaliating against workers for union organizing, and Starbucks was found to have violated this prohibition when it fired the seven workers from two Memphis stores.

Photo courtesy of The Memphis Seven @memphisseven901 / Twitter  

"This is an amazing turnaround for a ruling. It is a shame that we have to take this route to get our jobs back. We have proven once again that it is a protected right for workers to express how they feel about their workplace and how they can be better for us," said Nabretta Hardin, one of the Memphis Seven, in a statement.

"We all can't wait to go back to work and show Starbucks that we have a right to be there and we will continue to fight for our rights."

The initial decision in favor of the Starbucks workers came from federal district judge Sheryl Lipman on August 18.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the federal agency charged with enforcing federal labor laws — sought an injunction on behalf of the Memphis Seven and accused Starbucks of using "coercive" measures against pro-union employees at its Memphis stores.

Starbucks has said the employees were fired due to reported "safety and security violations" and not because of their unionization efforts. Judge Lipman disagreed and ordered the company to reinstate the seven in their former jobs.

After her ruling, Starbucks issued a statement of protest and appealed the decision to the 6th Circuit. It also filed a motion to stay the reinstatement pending the outcome of the appeal. The circuit court has now rejected the motion to stay, indicating the judges believe Starbucks will lose their appeal.

The firing of the Memphis Seven led to increased protests across the country in support of Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union representing Starbucks employees. As of August 31, 233 Starbucks across the US had voted in favor of unionization, according to the NLRB.