Starbucks coffee storefront via wikimedia

SCOTUS Set to Hear Case Pitting Starbucks Against the NLRB And It’s Own Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case on Tuesday that pits Starbucks against the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a dispute over the coffee giant’s alleged union busting practices.

The case stems from an incident in February 2022 when Starbucks fired seven employees who were leading a unionization effort at their Memphis, Tennessee store.

The NLRB determined that the firings constituted an illegal interference with the workers’ right to organize, finding that Starbucks had routinely allowed off-duty employees and non-employees to remain in the store after hours.

In response, the agency sought a temporary injunction from a federal district court to require Starbucks to rehire the workers while the case made its way through the administrative process.

A district court judge sided with the NLRB in August 2022, ordering Starbucks to rehire the workers.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, prompting Starbucks to appeal to the Supreme Court.

According to Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers, five of the seven fired employees are still employed at the Memphis store, which voted to unionize in June 2022. The other two remain involved with the organizing effort.

Starbucks argues that the Supreme Court should intervene because federal appeals courts disagree on the standards the NLRB must meet when requesting temporary injunctions against companies.

The company contends that such injunctions can be a major burden, given that the NLRB’s administrative process can take years to resolve.

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The National Labor Relations Act, which governs the NLRB, has allowed courts to grant temporary injunctions requested by the agency if they are deemed “just and proper” since 1947.

In the Memphis Starbucks case, the Sixth Circuit required the NLRB to establish reasonable cause to believe unfair labor practices occurred and that a restraining order would be a “just and proper” solution.

However, other federal appeals courts have required the NLRB to meet a more stringent four-factor test when seeking restraining orders.

Starbucks is asking the Supreme Court to establish this four-factor test as the standard for all courts to follow in NLRB injunction cases.

The NLRB, for its part, argues that it already considers its likelihood of success before taking a case to court, making the number of factors applied by courts largely irrelevant.

The agency also notes that it rarely seeks temporary injunctions, with only 14 such cases authorized out of 19,869 charges of unfair labor practices in its 2023 fiscal year.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case, Starbucks and Workers United announced in February that they would restart talks with the aim of reaching contract agreements this year.

The two sides planned to meet Tuesday for their first bargaining session in nearly a year.

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Despite workers at 420 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores voting to unionize since late 2021, none of those stores has secured a labor agreement with the company.

Image source: Wikimedia