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Supreme Court backs Starbucks in fight over ‘Memphis 7’ unionizing effort

By John Fritze and Chris Isidore, CNN

(CNN) — The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Starbucks in a labor dispute over seven employees who were fired after they attempted to unionize one of the coffee chain’s stores in Memphis.

The decision could make it harder for the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily halt what it views as unfair labor practices, including dismissing workers involved with organizing efforts. The NLRB is a federal agency charged with protecting workers’ rights.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the majority, which included all nine justices at least in part. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote an opinion partly concurring and partly dissenting.

Thomas argued that the standard the National Labor Relations Board had sought would make it too easy for the government to win in every conflict with an employer.

“In fact,” Thomas 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.”

Known as the “Memphis 7,” the employees at the center of the case became a nationwide symbol for labor supporters.

But the legal question for the justices was a technical one: How deeply federal courts must review the allegations of a labor dispute before deciding to temporarily block a company’s action.

The case arrived at the court during a period of significantly more organizing and strike activities by the nation’s unions. Some high-profile companies have complained that the NLRB is abusing its powers.

During oral arguments in late April, the government argued federal law requires courts to give deference to the NLRB’s read on such a dispute between employers and employees. But several of the justices – members of both the conservative and liberal wings – balked at that interpretation.

At one point during the arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts quipped that the court could, “dispose of this in a short opinion.”

In August 2022, a federal judge agreed with the NLRB, stating the Starbucks workers needed to be rehired. The Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed that decision last year and Starbucks appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case landed at the high court amid a broader legal battle between employers and the NLRB. Several companies have been asking federal courts, often with conservative judges, to stop the agency from standing behind the more aggressive organization efforts.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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