In Today’s News & Commentary: an Administrative Law Judge finds Starbucks illegally fired five of the “Memphis Seven” union activists; the Sixth Circuit hears oral argument in a challenge to the court order reinstating the Memphis Seven; Washington Governor Jay Inslee signs worker productivity quota limits into law.
On Thursday, an Administrative Law Judge ruled that Starbucks illegally fired five union activists in Memphis, Tennessee. The five were part of a group of workers known as the “Memphis Seven” who were fired in February 2022 after filming a television news segment at their store after hours. NLRB prosecutors established that the seven workers engaged in protected activity, Starbucks knew about it, and the company was motivated by anti-union animus. The company was able to show, however, that it would have fired two of the workers regardless of their protected activity for serious violations of company policy that occurred during the ordeal. Starbucks also committed unfair labor practices by temporarily closing the store to stop a union demonstration, hiring more managers and supervising workers more closely, and stripping pro-union materials from a bulletin board. The decision, which Starbucks can challenge before the full Board, is the eleventh against the company so far, while it has prevailed only once.
The same day, the Sixth Circuit heard oral arguments in a case brought by Starbucks challenging the federal court order that reinstated the Memphis Seven while the hearing for the unfair labor practice charges played out. Last year, a district judge in Tennessee found that the NLRB had satisfied the two-part test for granting an injunction under Section 10(j) of the NLRA, showing “reasonable cause” to believe that unfair labor practices had occurred and that relief was “just and proper.” Starbucks challenged the second prong of the test, arguing that the agency failed to show why the relief was necessary since the union won its election 11-3 with no evidence of impact on bargaining. The argument seemed to win favor with some of the panel, as Circuit Judge Readler pushed back on NLRB attorney claims that the firings had a chilling effect on unionization efforts. Given the successful certification, Judge Readler asked the agency to provide a more “concrete harm” than “employee support” and called it “pretty speculative” to suggest that the firings would have any effect on bargaining efforts.
Finally, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill limiting worker productivity quotas of the sort utilized in Amazon warehouses. The law, which mirrors similar measures introduced in New York and California in 2021, comes as a result of the Seattle-based company’s use of productivity metrics that prioritize speed over safety and result in high injury rates among workers. The law covers companies employing 100 or more workers at a single warehouse or 1000 or more across multiple in the state, requires companies to ensure that any productivity metrics do not prevent workers from taking meal, rest, or bathroom breaks, and commands that companies give workers notice of quotas and keep records of worker productivity data made available to both workers and the state labor agency.
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