High court backs Starbucks, undermines workers’ rights

Memphis Starbucks 7 leader Beto Sanchez speaks outside union-busting Starbucks boss Howard Schultz’s Manhattan apartment on May Day.

The Supreme Court of the United States once again attacked the labor movement on June 14, ruling 8-1 in favor of union-busting tactics in the case of Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney. SCOTUS overturned the decisions of two lower courts which upheld an injunction by the National Labor Relations Board ordering Starbucks to reinstate the Memphis 7. The seven workers, mostly Black and Brown, were fired by Starbucks in 2022. They alleged the firings were retaliation for attempting to unionize their store in Memphis.

The high court sent the case back to the lower court to revisit. While the ruling does not mean the Memphis 7 will be fired again, it makes it easier for companies like Starbucks to fire and otherwise retaliate against workers trying to organize.

On April 26, the company and Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), in a joint statement, said both “remain committed to building a positive, productive relationship.” The two parties began bargaining for a first contract to cover all nearly 450 unionized stores in February. 

The fact that Starbucks took the case of the Memphis 7 all the way to the Supreme Court, months after bargaining began, exposes its absolute hypocrisy.

Rarely do capitalists sincerely want a “positive, productive relationship” with a union fighting to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for the workers they exploit. When the workers get more, it cuts into the profits of the bosses.

It is actually fairly uncommon for the NLRB to order workers to be reinstated before their cases are resolved in a drawn-out court process. With the latest SCOTUS ruling, the Board will be even less likely to issue a pro-union injunction.

It should come as no surprise that this viciously right-wing court took the side of Starbucks. Nor should anyone be shocked that two of the three “liberal” justices sided with the “conservative” majority. The court was established by Congress in 1789, with justices appointed for life, when enslavement was legal. Its purpose was never to uphold the rights of the exploited. 

In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on June 15, SBWU co-founder Jaz Brisack wrote: “The outcome is predictable: the most conservative Supreme Court in decades eroded another legal protection of workers’ right to organize. In response, the labor movement must re-evaluate the source of our power; the law will not save us.”

It will take independent, militant action by the working class to defend the basic right to organize unions.

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