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Starbucks fired Memphis workers trade accusations amid bitter union fight

Starbucks (SBUX) fired seven workers at a Memphis location, in the midst of an increasingly acrimonious battle over a unionization drive that's widened to dozens of cities.

On Tuesday, seven Starbucks workers – 35% of the store’s total workforce – were terminated by the coffee giant, including nearly the entire union organizing committee, according to Starbucks Workers United. The coffee giant confirmed the dismissals at the store, although both sides differed about why the firings occurred.

Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, told Yahoo Finance that the firings were due to “several safety and security violations,” including the employees allowing a local media member in the store after hours for an interview, which was posted on Twitter last month.

“Our investigation revealed that partners violated numerous policies, including maintaining a secure work environment and safe security standards,” Borges said in an email.

Starbucks also accused the workers of allowing unauthorized visitors behind the counter, and into the back of the location while leaving the door unlocked and unattended. According to the company's account, an employee who lacked proper authorization opened the store safe.

“This is consistent with the actions that we take when partners violate the types of policies that were violated in this instance, because it crosses a threshold from a security and from a safety perspective that we just cannot allow,” Borges said.

The action came amid an organized labor effort at the Memphis cafe, which began in mid-January. Employees there said “they knew some of the protocols,” but accused the coffee giant of retaliation, arguing the company has “a million different protocols, there's no way that we can know them.”

Nabretta Hardin, a barista, started working at Starbucks a year ago. She was one of the employees let go "on the spot" on Tuesday, a decision she denounced.

“They're saying that we had broken policies for allowing customers in the store while it was closed, which was not true,” Hardin told Yahoo Finance in a phone interview.

“The news crew was there before the store was closed and they also ordered a drink. [Starbucks] also was basically saying that we gave them the drink for free when they actually paid for it,” the barista added.

The former employee accused the company of firing the workers in retaliation for organizing and speaking to the media.

“I'm feeling that I have been silenced in this way because they know this is a way to get the partners in the store to vote ‘No,'" she told Yahoo Finance.

"So they're trying to get out all the people that will vote ‘ Yes’ and they're firing those individuals, especially the ones that speak up the loudest on this topic,” Hardin added.

Even so, Workers United plans to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the union said in a statement. Starbucks didn’t provide information on the number of employees that have been fired for such violations throughout the year.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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