Starbucks Challenges Federal Labor Board Before Supreme Court

The agency forced the coffee giant to rehire seven workers.
SANTA FE, NM - FEBRUARY 21, 2017: A Starbucks Coffee shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is located in the city's historic district. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing Starbucks’ challenge to the federal labor agency that forced the coffee giant to rehire seven workers who tried to unionize.

In the summer of 2022, Starbucks fired seven baristas who were organizing a union at their Memphis location, arguing the workers violated company policy by having a television news crew come to the store after hours.

However, the National Labor Relations Board obtained a court order to reinstate the terminated baristas, agreeing with the workers that they were fired over their union activities. An appeals court later upheld that decision.

Starbucks argues that federal courts should have stricter standards for reinstating fired employees. Currently, a court may grant an injunction against a company if it is deemed “just and proper.”

During the first day of arguments, some of the justices appeared to agree with Starbucks.

Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out that other federal agencies are subject to a stricter 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 has a notoriously fraught relationship with its union, Starbucks Workers United, but tensions have recently cooled somewhat.

Starbucks and union representatives announced in February that they would resume talks. They were set to meet on Wednesday for a bargaining session, the first in close to a year, with the goal of getting a contract by the end of 2024.

Nevertheless, Starbucks has decided to plow ahead with its case before the high court 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, told The Washington Post.


Twelve current and former Starbucks baristas also wrote to the Supreme Court to claim they had been fired or punished for supporting union activity. Some said they had lost their health insurance or had their electricity cut because they could not pay their bills.

If the court decides in favor of Starbucks, the decision could discourage union activity at other companies. Union activity has surged across the country this year.

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

SpaceX filed a federal lawsuit in Texas earlier this year against the agency after the labor board accused the company of illegally firing eight employees for criticizing Elon Musk, the company’s founder.

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