U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear an appeal from Starbucks

The coffee chain wants the nation's highest court to decide if employees were truly dismissed because of their union activities.
U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of whether Starbucks illegally fired seven union organizers. | Photo: Shutterstock

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge from Starbucks of an appeals court’s order that the coffee chain rehire baristas who were fired by a unit in Tennessee.

The discharged employees claim they were terminated because of their efforts to unionize the store. Labor organizers dubbed them the Tennessee Seven, and their alleged mistreatment became a rallying point in the ongoing drive to unionize the coffee chain.

Starbucks disputes that the workers were let go because they were pro-union. It argued in lower courts that the employees were discharged because they violated corporate rules and personnel policies, a contention certain to be raised in its appearance before the Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court is being asked by the coffee giant for a ruling on what factors district courts must weigh when ruling on a request from the National Labor Relations Board for an immediate injunction against an employer.

The injunctions are routinely sought by the regulatory agency to halt what it decides is illegal anti-union behavior. Starbucks contends in its petition to the Supreme Court that it was hit with an injunction before the issuing court had evaluated all the relevant evidence.

If the high court obliges Starbucks, the criteria for granting an injunction would be standardized across all federal district courts.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has decided to consider our request to level the playing field for all U.S. employers,” Starbucks said in a statement.

The possibility of the court setting a standard drew fire from Starbucks Workers United, the group behind the unionization of 375 green-awninged cafes.

"With the Supreme Court agreeing to take up the Memphis case, Starbucks just expanded its war on its employees to a war on all U.S. workers,” the union said in a prepared statement. “All working people should be appalled and join our fight to ensure corporations are held accountable to the law." 

It also took issue with Starbucks' contention that the Tennessee Seven were fired because of job performance issues and noncompliance with company policies, and not because they were pro-union.

"Starbucks is seeking a bailout for its illegal union busting from Trump’s Supreme Court,” the union said. “There’s no doubt that Starbucks broke federal law by firing workers in Memphis for joining together in a union.”

No indication was given by the court of when Starbucks’ appeal may be heard.

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