January 16, 2024

Starbucks Headed to Supreme Court Over Firing of Pro-Union Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge from Starbucks regarding a judicial decision requiring the coffee chain to rehire seven employees at a Memphis, Tennessee cafe, who were determined by a federal agency to have been fired for supporting unionization.

The case marks the first to reach the Supreme Court related to an ongoing nationwide campaign to unionize Starbucks stores.

The Memphis store is among over 370 Starbucks locations in the U.S. that have unionized since 2021, marking a significant shift for the Seattle-based company that was non-union for decades.

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Starbucks unlawfully terminated the Memphis employees to discourage others from supporting the union drive.

The NLRB sought an injunction for Starbucks to rehire the employees, a decision upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2023.

Starbucks contended that it fired the workers for violating a company safety policy, but later rehired them to comply with the court order while still appealing the 6th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court.

Starbucks argued that the 6th Circuit applied a low standard, requiring the NLRB to show only "reasonable cause" for labor law violations.

Business groups supporting Starbucks claim that federal courts, including the 6th Circuit, have made it too easy for the NLRB to obtain judicial orders addressing alleged illegal labor practices.

Over 700 complaints have been filed with the NLRB against Starbucks, accusing the company of unlawful labor practices such as firing union supporters, worker surveillance, and store closures during labor campaigns.

The 6th Circuit is also reviewing a separate Starbucks appeal of an NLRB ruling in a case from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and other appeals courts are examining NLRB rulings on similar issues in Philadelphia and Seattle.

Starbucks maintains its innocence, asserting that it provides competitive wages and benefits to employees while respecting their rights under federal labor law.

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