The US Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear the case Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney, originally filed due to Starbucks’ firing of employees attempting to unionize, to determine the appropriate legal standard by which courts should review National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) preliminary injunction decisions.
The case arose in 2022, when Starbucks was accused of firing seven employees in Memphis, TN for attempting to unionize. The workers filed a complaint with the NLRB. The NLRB then filed a petition in the US District Court Western District of Tennessee requesting injunctive relief on behalf of the employees under Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The court found in favor of the NLRB issuing a preliminary injunction, ordering Starbucks to rehire the employees. The court did so using a more lenient approach to determining the appropriateness of preliminary injunctions, which is only granted to the NLRB under Section 10(j) of the NLRA. Starbucks then appealed the case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the lower court should have applied the traditional four-factor preliminary injunction test rather than the lenient NLRB test. The appeals court upheld the lower court ruling; however, the concurrence hinted at a sea-change in federal appellate courts’ approach to NLRB preliminary injunctions. Now, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to determine which test should be used in the court’s review of NLRB preliminary injunctions.
This case occurred amidst a series of scandals involving Starbucks’ treatment of employees attempting to unionize. In 2022, the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) sued Starbucks over its firing of a barista who was attempting to unionize, and in 2023, the NLRB ruled that Starbucks wrongfully terminated two Philadelphia, PA workers attempting to unionize.
Starbucks is only company to see nationwide worker action in the last few years. The Screen Actors’ Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike in 2023, with the strike only ending in November. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) also went on strike in 2023, ending a month before the SAG-AFTRA strike. The Cornell ILR School Labor Action Tracker currently estimates there are around 1136 ongoing labor actions across the US.