The Supreme Court just handed Starbucks a victory by making it harder to protect unionized workers

The Supreme Court on Thursday made it more difficult for the federal government to obtain injunctions when it suspects a company of interfering in unionization drives in a case that arose from a labor dispute with Starbucks.

The justices tightened standards for when a federal court should issue an order to protect workers’ jobs during a union organizing drive.

The court rejected a rule that some courts had applied to orders sought by the National Labor Relations Board in favor of a higher threshold, sought by Starbucks, that must be met in most other disputes over court orders or injunctions.

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 injunctive relief if they find requests to be “fair and appropriate.” The agency said the law does not require it to prove other factors and was intended to limit the role of the courts.

The case began in February 2022, when Starbucks fired seven workers who were trying to unionize its Tennessee store. The NLRB obtained a court order forcing the company to rehire the workers while the case moved forward in the agency’s administrative proceedings. These procedures can last up to two years.

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

Five of the seven workers are still employed at the Memphis store, while the other two remain involved in the organizing effort, according to Workers United, the union that organizes Starbucks workers. The Memphis store voted to unionize in June 2022.

As the case progressed, the animosity between Workers United and Starbucks began to fade. The two sides announced in February that they would restart talks with the goal of reaching contractual agreements this year, and held their first negotiating session in almost a year in late April.

Workers at 437 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late 2021, according to the NLRB, but none of those stores have reached a labor agreement with Starbucks.

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