The Supreme Court ruling makes it harder for the National...

The Supreme Court ruling makes it harder for the National Labor Relations Board to support Starbucks workers, like these in Seattle in 2023, when a company is suspected of interfering with union campaigns. Credit: AP/Lindsey Wasson

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a higher standard must be met for the federal government to win court orders when a company is suspected of interfering with union campaigns.

The ruling stemmed from a court case involving a labor dispute with Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks and its unionized workforce. Starbucks had argued that the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency responsible for overseeing union elections and enforcing federal labor law, should have to meet a higher, consistent standard when seeking a court order to protect the jobs of workers during a union campaign.

The case began in February 2022, when Starbucks fired seven workers who were trying to unionize their Tennessee store. The NLRB obtained a court order forcing the company to rehire the workers while the case wound its way through administrative proceedings.

A district court judge agreed with the NLRB and issued a temporary injunction ordering Starbucks to rehire the workers in August 2022. After the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, Starbucks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The NLRB had argued that the National Labor Relations Act, the law that governs the agency, has for more than 75 years allowed courts to grant temporary injunctions if they find requests “just and proper.” The agency said the law didn't require it to prove other factors and was intended to limit the role of the courts.

On Long Island, employees at stores in Farmingville, Westbury, Lynbrook, Massapequa, Wantagh, Old Westbury, Garden City and Port Jefferson have unionized and joined the Workers United New York New Jersey Regional Board, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, the union representing workers at more than 440 Starbucks stores nationwide, said the court’s decision underscored how the “economy is rigged against working people.”

“Working people have so few tools to protect and defend themselves when their employers break the law. That makes today’s ruling by the Supreme Court particularly egregious,” Fox said in statement.

The union president also criticized Starbucks for pursuing the case to the highest court in the country while at the same time maintaining that it wanted to work with the union to negotiate a fair contract for union workers.

“It’s incongruous to want to build a productive, positive relationship with workers and at the same time lead an attack on one of the few mechanisms they have to defend themselves against unscrupulous employers,” Fox said.

Starbucks officials emphasized that the ruling provided for a consistent standard across the country.

“Consistent federal standards are important in ensuring that employees know their rights and consistent labor practices are upheld no matter where in the country they work and live,” Starbucks spokesperson Jay Go Guasch said in a statement.

“We will continue to focus on making progress toward our goal of reaching ratified contracts for represented stores this year,” Guasch said.

Local labor advocates lamented the court's decision.

“The NLRB exists to resolve labor disputes and ensure workers can exercise our rights to join a union free from intimidation and retaliation,” said Ryan Stanton, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “Today, the Supreme Court sided with corporate power over everyday working Americans.”

“This decision is a direct attack on the fundamental freedom to exercise your rights to organize a union on the job,” Stanton said.

Mary Anne Trasciatti, director of labor studies at Hofstra University, said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the court's decision.

Last month, Trasciatti had warned about the impact that Starbucks’ court case might have on the broader labor movement.

“Starbucks is talking out of both sides of their mouth,” said Trasciatti, who is also a board member with Jobs With Justice, a local arm of a national pro-labor organization. “It really undercuts their stated commitment to building a positive relationship with their unionized workers.”

She said the Starbucks case was part of a much bigger push by large corporations, including SpaceX, Amazon and Trader Joe’s, to challenge the authority of the NLRB in court. 

“It’s just going to be a matter of time before the legal protections for working people become even more narrow than they are now,” she said.

With AP

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