WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal from Starbucks in a dispute with the National Labor Relations Board over efforts by workers to unionize at a store in Memphis, Tennessee.
The case has been among the most closely watched in the more than 2-year-old effort to unionize Starbucks' company-owned U.S. stores.
Starbucks fired seven employees in Memphis in February 2022, citing safety. The Seattle coffee giant said they violated company policy by reopening a store after closing time and inviting non-employees — including a television crew — to come inside and move throughout the store.
But the NLRB intervened, saying the company was unlawfully interfering in workers' right to organize and that the store had routinely allowed employees to gather there after closing time. The NLRB asked a federal judge for an immediate injunction requiring Starbucks to reinstate the workers.
In August 2022, a federal judge agreed and ordered Starbucks to reinstate the workers. That decision was later affirmed by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Starbucks appealed to the Supreme Court.
The legal issue in the case is the standard courts should use when deciding whether to issue an order against a business in the midst of a labor dispute. Starbucks said the lower courts in this case used a relaxed standard when deciding to grant the injunction to the labor board, while other federal courts have used a tougher standard.
"We are pleased the Supreme Court has decided to consider our request to level the playing field for all U.S. employers by ensuring that a single standard is applied as federal district courts determine whether to grant injunctions pursued by the National Labor Relations Board," the company said Friday.
Workers United, the union organizing Starbucks workers, said the company is trying to weaken the labor board's ability to hold companies accountable.
"There's no doubt that Starbucks broke federal law by firing workers in Memphis for joining together in a union," Workers United said. "The district court determined that, and the decision was affirmed by one of the most conservative courts in the nation."
The Memphis store did eventually vote to unionize. It is one of at least 370 Starbucks stores that have voted to unionize since late 2021.