Supreme Court Backs Starbucks in NLRB Dispute Over Reinstating Fired Workers

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Written By Vikas Jangid

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Supreme Court Backs Starbucks: Reinstating Fired Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling in favor of Starbucks in a closely watched case concerning the reinstatement of employees fired during a unionization effort in Memphis, Tennessee.

The decision could have significant ramifications for the ability of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to swiftly intervene in instances of alleged unfair labor practices.

Supreme Court Overturns Lower Court’s Reinstatement Order

On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court's decision that required Starbucks to reinstate seven employees fired during a unionization drive at a Memphis store. The NLRB had requested an injunction compelling Starbucks to rehire the workers while an unfair labor practice case proceeded through the administrative process.

Source: Twitter/nypost

The crux of the case hinged on the appropriate legal standard for courts to consider when evaluating such injunction requests from the NLRB. Starbucks argued that the lower court should have applied a stricter four-factor test, which takes into account potential harm to both parties and the likelihood of success in the case.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, agreed with this argument and directed the case back to the lower courts for a fresh look based on this standard. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson concurred with the overall decision but dissented on specific aspects of how the test should be applied.

Starbucks Maintains Stricter Standard Could Have Altered Outcome

Starbucks believes that if the stricter standard had been applied in the lower courts, the outcome might have been different.

The company argued that the NLRB's approach was overly broad and could lead to situations where businesses are forced to reinstate employees based on flimsy evidence.

Biden Administration Supported NLRB’s Position

The Biden administration sided with the NLRB in this case. During arguments before the Supreme Court in April, a Justice Department lawyer emphasized the exceptional nature of such injunctions.

The lawyer noted that despite receiving roughly 20,000 unfair labor practice charges annually, the NLRB infrequently seeks injunctions like the one requested in the Starbucks case.

Labor Strife at Starbucks

The ruling comes amidst a backdrop of ongoing labor strife at Starbucks. Roughly 400 Starbucks locations across the country, encompassing over 10,000 employees, have successfully unionized.

Both Starbucks and the unions have lodged accusations of improper behavior against each other, with the NLRB receiving numerous complaints from workers alleging Starbucks of unfair practices such as terminating union advocates, monitoring employees excessively, and closing stores during unionization efforts.

Starbucks has consistently denied these claims and maintains its commitment to respecting workers' rights regarding unionization.

In February of this year, both Starbucks and the unions involved reached an agreement establishing a framework for organizing and collective bargaining, aiming to potentially resolve a multitude of ongoing legal disputes.

Memphis Employees Fired During Unionization Efforts

The case centered on the firing of seven employees from a Starbucks cafe on Poplar Avenue in Memphis in 2022. These employees were among the company's first to successfully unionize.

During their initial efforts to organize a union, they permitted a local television news crew to enter the cafe after closing hours to discuss the campaign. Starbucks subsequently terminated seven employees who were present that evening, including several key members of the union organizing committee.

Despite the terminations, the cafe's employees ultimately voted to join the Workers United union.

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