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Starbucks Workers Union Slams SCOTUS Decision for Weakening Labor Protections

The court ruled in favor of Starbucks, which had terminated seven employees who led a unionization campaign in Memphis.

Members and supporters of Starbucks Workers United protest outside of a Starbucks store in Dupont Circle on November 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Labor advocates decried Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Starbucks in a labor dispute between the international coffee giant and seven of its employees who were terminated for leading a unionization campaign at their Memphis store.

In an 8-1 decision — with liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissenting — the justices in Starbucks v. McKinney made it more difficult for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to temporarily halt alleged unfair labor practices. The court rejected a rule invoked by some courts to protect workers in favor of a higher standard supported by Starbucks.

Far-right Justice Clarence Thomas, who penned the court’s majority opinion, asserted that the NLRB-backed standard made it too easy for the federal government to prevail in labor disputes with businesses.

“In fact,” he wrote, “it is hard to imagine how the board could lose under the reasonable-cause test if courts deferentially ask only whether the board offered a minimally plausible legal theory, while ignoring conflicting law or facts.”

Labor defenders, however, condemned the ruling.

“Working people have so few tools to protect and defend themselves when their employers break the law,” Lynne Fox, president of Workers United, the union representing Starbucks employees, said in a statement.

“That makes today’s ruling by the Supreme Court particularly egregious,” Fox added. “It underscores how the economy is rigged against working people all the way up to the Supreme Court.”

Labor journalist Steven Greenhouse said on social media that “companies that engage in union-busting will applaud this ruling.”

Revolving Door Project found that at least three groups tied to anti-union figures Charles Koch, a billionaire, and Leonard Leo, a right-wing legal activist, filed amicus briefs in support of Starbucks’ position.

At the center of the case are the so-called “Memphis Seven” employees who worked at Starbucks’ Poplar and Highland location in the Tennessee city before they were fired in February 2022 during the early months of what has become a nationwide labor organization wave in which workers at hundreds of locations have voted to unionize.

In August 2022, a federal judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate the fired workers.

“Today’s SCOTUS ruling in favor of Starbucks is tough news, but it won’t stop us,” the advocacy group Jobs With Justice said in response to the decision. “We stand with the Memphis Seven and all workers fighting for fair treatment. We must keep pushing for justice and stronger protections!”

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