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This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Feb. 9, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Workers at a Memphis Starbucks who were fired Tuesday after launching a unionization effort vowed to carry on their fight, with one employee invoking the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.—who was assassinated in the Tennessee city while campaigning for workers’ rights. 

Beto Sanchez, another shift supervisor at the store, said that “Starbucks has been fighting desperately to silence us because we did not back down or let them shake us.”

“I was fired by Starbucks today for ‘policies’ that I’ve never heard of before and that I’ve never been written up about before,” Nikki Taylor, a shift supervisor at the Poplar and Highland store, said in a statement.

“This is a clear attempt by Starbucks to retaliate against those of us who are leading the union effort at our store and scare other partners,” she added. “Starbucks will not get away with this—the entire country will be outraged.”

Taylor tweeted: “This is an outrage! They are firing the entire committee!”

Beto Sanchez, another shift supervisor at the store, said that “Starbucks has been fighting desperately to silence us because we did not back down or let them shake us.” 

A Starbucks representative told The New York Times that the workers were fired for violations including allowing at least one reporter inside the store to conduct an after-hours interview in which some of the employees were unmasked. 

Starbucks Workers United, which is representing company employees seeking to unionize at various locations around the country, said that “in their most blatant act of union-busting yet, Starbucks is retaliating against the union organizing committee at the Poplar and Highland store after they allowed the media to conduct interviews in their store after hours.”

The group added that “Starbucks is using policies that have never been enforced, such as going behind a counter when a partner is not officially working, to fire workers. Starbucks chose to selectively enforce policies, that have not previously been consistently enforced, as a subterfuge to fire union leaders. Many of these workers did not have any prior offenses or write-ups.”

Starbucks Workers United said it would file charges against the company at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

Last year, an NLRB administrative judge found that Starbucks had illegally retaliated against two baristas at a Philadelphia Starbucks who sought to unionize.

According to the NLRB, the judge, Andrew Gollin, “found that Starbucks closely monitored their public social media activity, attempted to gauge employees’ support for the employees’ efforts, and unlawfully spied on protected conversations one of the employees initiated with coworkers.”

The agency added that Gollin “concluded Starbucks retaliated against the employees and discharged them in an attempt to quell the organizing drive.”

The Memphis terminations come amid a wave of unionization efforts at dozens of Starbucks locations around the nation.

The Poplar and Highland workers chose Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to launch their unionization drive. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 while participating in a sanitation workers’ strike. The store employees are demanding higher pay—including a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour—better working conditions, and improved COVID-19 safety precautions.

“This store is a family, and an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We as partners should not be afraid to speak to the media, to organize our stores, or to fight for our right to have a union,” said Sanchez, noting that King “was killed in our very city while fighting for the right to organize a union.”

“We have no intentions [of] backing down or wavering,” Sanchez added, “and we’re ready for the rest of the community and other stores to join us in our fight for workers’ rights.” 

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams.