MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Starbucks said Wednesday it will reinstate seven employees who were fired in February after leading an effort to unionize their Memphis store.
Starbucks said the employees violated company policy by reopening the store after closing time and inviting non-employees — including a television crew — to come inside.
But the National Labor Relations Board disagreed with Starbucks' action, saying it was interfering with workers' right to organize, and it asked a federal court in Memphis to intervene. Last month, a federal judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate the workers within five days while the court considers the labor board's lawsuit.
Starbucks appealed, but late Tuesday, a three-judge panel for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the lower court, ruling that Starbucks "did not show a likelihood of success" in challenging the lower court's ruling.
The case has been among the most closely watched in the ongoing unionization effort at Starbucks. Since late last year, more than 230 U.S. Starbucks stores — including the Memphis location — have voted to unionize. Starbucks opposes unionization.
Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks stores, celebrated the appeals court decision Wednesday. The group claims Starbucks has fired more than 100 union leaders from its stores this year.
"We hope the win helps provide the precedent for other cases like ours and helps show workers that we have the power to stand up for a better work life for ourselves and every other worker out there," said Kylie Throckmorton, one of the fired workers, in a statement distributed by the union.
Starbucks said it respects workers' right to organize but strongly disagrees with the court decision.
"We are concerned that this ruling sends mixed messages to our partners about appropriate behavior in the workplace and sets a worrisome precedent for employers everywhere who need to be able to make personnel decisions based on their established policies and protocols," the company said.
Starbucks also said the decision will penalize current workers, who will likely see their hours reduced to make way for the returning staff.