In labor dispute, Supreme Court backs Starbucks against US

18 Jun 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Supreme Court ruled on June 13, siding with Starbucks, making it more challenging for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to secure court orders in labor disputes.

This decision stems from a labor dispute involving Starbucks and tightens the criteria for issuing temporary injunctions during unionization efforts.

The justices unanimously decided that federal courts should apply a higher threshold for issuing injunctions, aligning with the standards sought by Starbucks. This higher bar is typically applied in other legal battles over court orders.

The NLRB argued that for over 75 years, the National Labor Relations Act has allowed courts to grant temporary injunctions if deemed “just and proper,” without needing to prove additional factors. The agency contended that the law aimed to limit the courts’ role in such matters.

Starbucks welcomed the decision, emphasizing the importance of consistent federal standards to ensure employees know their rights and that uniform labor practices are maintained nationwide. “Consistent federal standards are important in ensuring that employees know their rights and consistent labor practices are upheld no matter where in the country they work and live,” the company stated.

However, Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, the union representing Starbucks workers, criticized the ruling. She argued that it strips workers of crucial protections against unlawful employer actions. “Working people have few tools to protect and defend themselves when their employers break the law. That makes today’s ruling by the Supreme Court particularly egregious,” Fox said.

The dispute originated in February 2022, when Starbucks dismissed seven workers involved in unionizing their Tennessee store. The NLRB secured a court order mandating Starbucks to reinstate the workers while the agency’s administrative process continued, which can last up to two years.

A district court judge sided with the NLRB, issuing a temporary injunction in August 2022. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this ruling, prompting Starbucks to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven workers remain employed at the Memphis store, with the other two still active in the organizing efforts, according to Workers United. The Memphis store successfully voted to unionize in June 2022.

Despite the legal battle, relations between Workers United and Starbucks have begun to improve. In February, the two parties announced they would resume negotiations to reach contract agreements this year. They held their first bargaining session in nearly a year in late April.

Since late 2021, workers at 437 company-owned Starbucks stores in the U.S. have voted to unionize, according to the NLRB. However, these stores still need to secure a labor agreement with Starbucks. The company has committed to ratifying these stores’ contracts within the year.