The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of coffeehouse chain Starbucks in a case concerning the rehiring of seven Memphis employees who were dismissed amid efforts to unionise.  

The ruling could set a precedent, making it more challenging for courts to intervene swiftly in disputes over alleged unfair labour practices, Reuters has reported.  

The justices unanimously set aside a lower court’s endorsement of an injunction by the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which had mandated Starbucks to reinstate the employees while the agency’s internal administrative case against the company continued.  

Starbucks had maintained that the Memphis judge should have applied a more rigorous four-factor test before granting the injunction, a standard that is often used in other legal disputes and by some courts in non-labour cases. 

This stringent test evaluates the likelihood of irreparable harm and the probability of success on the merits of the case.  

Starbucks argued that a stricter application of this standard would have altered the outcome at the lower court level.  

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The US administration supported the NLRB’s stance in the case, with a Justice Department lawyer noting during Supreme Court arguments that the NLRB only seeks injunctions in a select number of “cream of the crop” cases. 

The unionisation movement within Starbucks has seen more than 400 locations in the US unionise, involving upwards of 10,000 employees.  

Both parties agreed in February 2024 to establish a framework to guide future organising, enable collective bargaining and potentially resolve numerous ongoing legal disputes.  

The seven employees from Starbucks on Poplar Avenue in Memphis were among the early groups to form a union in 2022.  

They were terminated after permitting a television crew to film inside the café during their union drive, which led to claims of unfair labour practices. Despite their dismissal, the group joined the Workers United union. 

Workers United president Lynne Fox released a statement on X regretting the Supreme Court’s decision: “Working people have so few tools to protect and defend themselves when their employers break the law.

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