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Supreme Court Weighs Starbucks Case, Future of Union Activity at Stake



Clear Facts

  • The Supreme Court has initiated proceedings on Starbucks’ challenge against the National Labor Relations Board. The board previously ordered the coffee chain to re-employ seven employees who were in the process of unionizing.
  • Starbucks is arguing for federal courts to apply stricter standards when reinstating dismissed employees. Some Supreme Court justices appear to be in agreement with this viewpoint.
  • The outcome of this case could potentially impact union activity in other organizations. Recently, there has been a surge in union activities across the U.S., as companies like Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s have also challenged the National Labor Relations Board.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court began hearings on Starbucks’ case against the federal labor agency that previously required the coffee company to reinstate seven workers who were attempting to form a union.

In the summer of 2022, these seven baristas were dismissed from their Memphis store as they were seeking to establish a union. Starbucks maintained that these employees violated company policy by inviting a television crew to the store after business hours.

Nevertheless, the National Labor Relations Board obtained a court order to reinstate the dismissed baristas, concurring with the workers’ assertion that their terminations were due to their unionizing efforts.

An appeals court later upheld this decision.

Starbucks is now advocating for federal courts to enforce stricter standards when reinstating terminated employees. As it stands, an injunction can be enforced against a company if it is deemed “just and proper.”

As proceedings progressed, some justices appeared to align with Starbucks’ perspective.

Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out that other federal agencies adhere to a more stringent standard.

“In all sorts of alphabet soup agencies, we don’t do this. District courts apply the ‘likelihood of success’ test as we normally conceive it. So why is this particular statutory regime different than so many others?” Gorsuch asked.

Starbucks, despite its strained relationship with its union, Starbucks Workers United, and union representatives have announced plans to recommence discussions in February. The first meeting in nearly a year is scheduled for Wednesday, with the goal of reaching a contract by the end of 2024.


However, Starbucks is continuing with its Supreme Court case, to the dismay of union officials.

“The day [Starbucks] committed to a new path should’ve been the day that they pulled back the case before SCOTUS,” Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, the parent union of Starbucks’ union, stated.

A group of current and former Starbucks baristas have also written to the Supreme Court alleging they were dismissed or penalized for supporting union activity. Some have claimed they lost their health insurance or had their electricity disconnected due to inability to pay their bills.

If the court rules in favor of Starbucks, this could potentially discourage union activities in other corporations. Union activity has experienced a significant surge across the country this year.

Notably, Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s have also recently opposed the National Labor Relations Board.

This year, SpaceX filed a federal lawsuit in Texas against the agency following accusations from the labor board that the company unlawfully dismissed eight employees for criticizing its founder, Elon Musk.

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