Starbucks’s Case at the Supreme Court Is a Venti Lose-Lose for the Company and the Burgeoning Unionization Movement

The Supreme Court has heard Starbucks’ challenge to a court ruling that mandated the company to rehire seven employees at its Memphis, Tennessee café after a federal agency found that these employees were terminated for supporting unionization. In Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney, the Court will weigh whether the company unlawfully discouraged other employees from exercising their rights under U.S. labor law by firing the Memphis workers in 2022. This case is at the epicenter of the ongoing battle between Starbucks and their employees, and the potential implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are significant.

If the Supreme Court supports Starbucks’ position here, it might establish a precedent that makes it harder for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to obtain court orders requiring businesses to address violations of labor laws. However, attorney Sean Domnick points out that the Supreme Court has the power to put significant weight behind the rights of employees to unionize, especially when challenging a company as powerful as Starbucks.

By upholding the decision of the lower courts, the Supreme Court would be sending the message that when companies such as Starbucks actively work to subvert unionization, it merits close judicial scrutiny. From what was asked and answered in Tuesday’s oral argument, it seems pretty clear to me that it will be somewhere around 6-3 in favor of Starbucks. The justices seemed nonplussed with the looming reality that this decision would make it more difficult for union organizers to get their jobs back. Such a decision would have a chilling effect on the unionization movement at Starbucks, which would be a step backwards in both the history of the company and the ability of workers to form a union where it’s the best option.

Because Starbucks so badly mishandled these unionization efforts, the company has only breathed new life into them. Since 2021, more than 360 Starbucks locations in the U.S. have voted to unionize, representing about 4% of the company’s total U.S. company-owned footprint. The unionization movement has been characterized by a push among Starbucks workers across the United States to address concerns such as low wages, set hours, and other workplace issues.

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