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Starbucks fires Memphis workers involved in unionization efforts

Starbucks says it was due to "several safety and security violations" that took place at the store.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Starbucks fired seven employees in Memphis who were seeking to unionize their store on Tuesday, which is one of several nationwide where workers have filed for union elections since December.

Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks, said in a statement released Tuesday that the company's decision to terminate several employees at the Poplar/Highland store comes after "several policy violations", with all being "terminable" offenses.

One of the fired employees, Kylie Throckmorton, attended a protest outside of the Starbucks on Wednesday and said that those policies were selectively enforced.  

"This just continues to show that we need to unionize," said Throckmorton.

Starbucks Workers United took to Twitter in response to the firings and said: "Starbucks corporate is currently firing virtually the entire union leadership in Memphis after they spoke to the media. They are repeating history by retaliating against unionizing workers. The arc of Starbucks' union-busting is long, but it bends toward losing."

According to the statement released by Starbucks, security footage showed employees allowing unauthorized personnel behind the store bar and in the store after hours, and an employee opened the store’s safe without proper authorization.

When asked about the fact that the former employees spoke to the media, Borges said that "no partners have ever been penalized for speaking to the media." Any claim that their termination was due to their affiliation with the union is "false, they're not accurate."

Borges said that Starbucks respects their employees’ right to unionize, despite the fact that the company does not believe that they need “a third party to connect and communicate directly” with employees.

Democratic Memphis Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the following on the firings: “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.”

The store will remain closed, as the store currently doesn't have any power and is being run on a generator.

Starbucks' full statement is below:

"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. Out of respect for their privacy, we will not go into further detail here."

Editor's Note: The original version of this story attributed information that came directly from Starbucks's press release to reporting done by ABC News. That attribution made it seem like statements made by Starbucks's representative was a reported fact when it was only one side of the story.

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