The Supreme Court has announced its decision to hear an appeal lodged by Starbucks concerning an ongoing dispute with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) related to workers’ attempts to unionize at a Memphis, Tennessee store. This case stands as a focal point in the overarching, two-year endeavor to unionize Starbucks’ corporate-owned establishments across the United States.
The genesis of the legal wrangling dates back to February 2022 when Starbucks terminated seven employees in Memphis, ostensibly due to safety concerns. The company contended that these employees violated protocol by reopening the store after closing hours, allowing non-employees, including a television crew, to enter and freely move within the premises.
Contrarily, the NLRB asserted that Starbucks unlawfully impeded workers’ organizational rights and contended that the store habitually permitted employee gatherings post-closure. Consequently, the NLRB sought an immediate injunction from a federal judge mandating Starbucks to reinstate the terminated workers.
In a pivotal ruling in August 2022, a federal judge sided with the NLRB, compelling Starbucks to reinstate the workers. This decision found affirmation in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Starbucks, dissatisfied with the outcome, escalated the matter to the Supreme Court, challenging the standard employed by lower courts when issuing orders amidst labor disputes.
The crux of the legal matter revolves around the criteria courts should employ when deciding whether to issue orders against businesses embroiled in labor disputes. Starbucks contends that the lower courts, in this instance, applied a lenient standard, whereas other federal courts have adopted a more stringent approach. The company articulated its position, stating, “We are pleased the Supreme Court has decided to consider our request to level the playing field for all U.S. employers.”
Conversely, Workers United, the union spearheading efforts to organize Starbucks workers, alleges that Starbucks seeks to undermine the NLRB’s ability to hold companies accountable. Emphasizing the alleged violation of federal law, Workers United stated, “There’s no doubt that Starbucks broke federal law by firing workers in Memphis for joining together in a union.”
Notably, the Memphis store eventually voted to unionize, joining a growing cohort of at least 370 Starbucks stores that have opted for unionization since late 2021. The Supreme Court’s forthcoming deliberations on this appeal hold broader implications for labor relations in the United States.