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May 23, 2024

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Starbucks Appeal Over Fired Memphis Workers

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Jan 13, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear Starbucks’ appeal of a federal court order reinstating seven employees in Memphis who were fired after leading a unionization effort. The case has major implications for the ongoing labor dispute between Starbucks and Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks stores across the country.

Background of the Unionization Push at Starbucks

Starbucks employees in over 200 stores have voted to unionize since late 2021, but the company has pushed back hard against the unionization effort. Workers United accuses Starbucks of illegal retaliation and union-busting tactics, including firing over 80 union leaders nationwide.

The unionization push started in Buffalo, NY in 2021 and quickly spread to other states. Workers cite long-standing grievances over understaffing, inconsistent schedules, poor training, and lagging wages. They say these issues were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and led them to seek collective bargaining rights.

State Number of Unionized Starbucks Stores
New York 66
Massachusetts 37
Illinois 17
Oregon 12
Pennsylvania 10

Starbucks reported record revenue of $32 billion in 2022 but many baristas earn around $12 per hour. The company claims it already provides industry-leading compensation and benefits without a union.

Memphis Firings Spark Legal Battle

In February 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in Memphis filed a federal lawsuit accusing Starbucks of unlawful retaliation and interference over the firing of seven employees who led unionization efforts at a Memphis store.

The NLRB sought a court order requiring Starbucks to immediately reinstate the employees while their case was being heard. In April 2022, a federal judge granted the preliminary injunction based on evidence suggesting the workers were fired for union activity rather than policy violations as Starbucks claimed.

Starbucks appealed this injunction to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the 6th Circuit sided with the lower court in November 2022, keeping the reinstatement order in place. Starbucks then asked the Supreme Court to hear a further appeal.

Supreme Court Intervention Sought

In its December 2022 filing to the Supreme Court, Starbucks argued that the NLRB should not be granted preliminary reinstatement orders without proving its accusations at an administrative trial first.

Starbucks says the NLRB is essentially pronouncing the company guilty without a trial, violating its due process rights. It wants the Supreme Court to declare the NLRB’s standard for preliminary injunctions illegal.

The company warned that upholding the lower courts’ decisions would allow the NLRB to seek reinstatement orders nationwide “based solely on one-sided, unchecked assertions by the agency.”

Broader Implications for Unionization Push

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case dismayed union organizers but was welcomed by business groups who also view the NLRB’s tactics as overreach.

If Starbucks prevails, it would undermine the NLRB’s leverage to quickly get fired workers reinstated. That could slow unionization campaigns as replacing fired leaders delays elections. Starbucks may also more aggressively target union organizers if reinstatement orders are harder to obtain.

However, if the Supreme Court sides with the NLRB, it would validate the agency’s aggressive use of federal courts to protect workers exercising labor rights. This could accelerate the fast-growing unionization movement across Starbucks and beyond.

What Happens Next

Oral arguments will likely occur in April with a decision expected by June 2024. In the meantime, the discharged employees will remain reinstated per the injunction.

The Supreme Court’s conservative 6-3 majority has already issued several pro-business rulings, leading some experts to favor Starbucks’ chances. However, two conservative justices have also signaled some support for workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Nashville Organizing Committee which filed the Memphis complaint said it looks forward to presenting facts on Starbucks’ unlawful conduct, confident that justice will prevail despite the company’s high-powered legal team.

Conclusion

This case sets up a major showdown between a resurgent U.S. labor movement and corporate powers determined to quash worker organizing. The Supreme Court’s ruling could impact unionization prospects at America’s second largest private employer and prompt wider effects across the business community. Labor advocates say upholding the reinstatements is critical to stop unlawful intimidation, but business groups counter that the NLRB should not bypass standard procedures.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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