Starbucks Files Case Against Federal Labor Agency in US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Tuesday on a case that could make it more difficult for the National Labor Relations Board to seek injunctions against companies it suspects of interfering with union organizing campaigns.

The appeal, brought by Starbucks, challenges an injunction sought by the National Labor Relations Board in February 2022 after the coffee giant fired seven Memphis Starbucks workers who tried to unionize their store. A court order was issued by a district court judge in August 2022, forcing Starbucks to rehire the fired workers while the case was reviewed by the NLRB, a process that takes about two years.

Starbucks appealed the ruling to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the lower judge’s court order, prompting Starbucks to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

In its petition, Starbucks argued that there had been disputes in the federal appellate courts on what standards the NLRB must meet before requesting an injunction against a company.

In reviewing the case, the 6th Circuit required the NLRB to prove that it had reasonable cause to believe that Starbucks engaged in unfair labor practices and that an injunction against firing the employees was “just and proper.”

However, in other cases, federal appellate courts required the NLRB to meet much tougher standards when seeking injunctions, such as evidence that the employees would face irreparable harm without such orders in place.

Based on questioning during oral arguments, the justices appeared to agree with Starbucks.

The justices pointed out that Congress required the NLRB to seek injunctions in federal court and the courts had a duty to consider multiple factors before issuing the injunction, including whether the NLRB would be successful in pursuing a case against a company.

Counsel for the NLRB, however, argued that the 1947 National Labor Relations Act permitted the courts to grant injunctions based solely on whether the agency believed the request was “just and proper.”

Five of the seven Memphis workers are still employed by the company. Workers from the Memphis location voted in June 2022 to unionize.