A U.S. judge ordered Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) to reinstate seven employees at a Memphis, Tennessee, cafe on Thursday who were allegedly fired for supporting a union organizing campaign, as the company seeks to halt pending nationwide union elections.
U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman in Memphis said the U.S. National Labor Relations Board had provided enough evidence that the firings earlier this year were motivated by anti-union animus. Lipman granted the order pending the outcome of an administrative case before the board.
The Memphis store is one of nearly 220 Starbucks cafes in the United States to unionize over the last year. Workers at 46 locations have voted against unionizing, and dozens of other elections are pending.
Starbucks said in a statement on Thursday it disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal. The company said the workers were fired for violating company safety policies and that it respected the unionization process.
NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo in a statement called the decision “a crucial step in ensuring that these workers, and all Starbucks workers, can freely exercise their right to join together to improve their working conditions and form a union.”
The NLRB in May made the rare move of seeking an order in federal court in the Memphis case, as claims that the workers were unlawfully fired play out before an administrative judge.
The board is considering scores of other complaints alleging Starbucks interfered with workers’ organizing rights in various ways, including by closing stores and firing or disciplining union supporters.
In a letter to NLRB officials on Monday, Starbucks accused board staff of improperly aiding the union and asked for elections to be suspended nationwide pending the outcome of an investigation.