SC Starbucks workers cleared to work after 8-week suspension during criminal probe

Eight employees of a Starbucks in Anderson will return to work on Monday after a law enforcement investigation cleared them of kidnapping and assaulting the store manager during a union action.

They have been out of work with pay since Aug. 6, a few days after they presented union demands to the manager.

Starbucks officials reported to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office that manager Melissa Morris had been threatened and was unable to leave during the presentation on Aug. 1.

A widely circulated TikTok video showed the scene of the union tactic called March on the Boss.

Morris was on the phone sitting at a table while a dozen or so employees stood nearby. She got up, walked past them, nudging one employee as she passed.

Someone says, “Why are you pushing him?”

At one point, she asks, “Will you let me leave the building,” and someone responds, “yes.” according to an audiotape posted on Twitter.

The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office declined to press charges.

“After talking with all the employees and seeing the TikTok video that an employee posted from the event, none of the allegations were true,” Caroline Skeen of the Sheriff’s Office said.

The employees had just asked for higher wages — they make $12 a hour — and for the company to fix broken equipment. They also said hours had been cut.

A Twitter post from the union called the kidnapping and assault allegations “false and absurd.”

Meanwhile, five workers have been fired, including a union organizer, Starbucks said, for going into the store off Interstate 85 on July 24 when it was closed, violating company policy.

Workers voted unanimously to unionize in June.

Starbucks said in a news release the Anderson store was one of 234 stores around the country that received a letter inviting them to begin bargaining for a contract. Also included were stores in Columbia and Greenville.

“Our safety and security policies are in place to protect partners and to protect our customers and the communities we serve. All partners are aware of these policies, and receive training related to them,” Starbucks said in an email Thursday.

The email also said the company respects the right to organize and “will bargain in good faith.”

The Anderson workers staged day-long strikes in June and July and protested outside the store each time. Response to their actions from the community was mixed, from a pickup truck driver who spewed diesel fumes at them to regulars who donated to a gofundme account.

Mya Ourada, a 17-year-old barista, said Starbucks had cleared the workers to go back to work and told them to expect a discussion about the investigation.

“I’m a bit curious as to what needs to be discussed about the investigation or whether they will have us written up and return to work or if it will be a warning or what will happen,” she said. “We know a lot more now but are all still a bit on edge and excited to go back to work to see each other and our regulars.”