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Robert L. McTiernan

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Co-chair, Labor & Employment Group

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Does U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Favor of Starbucks Signal Greater Restriction on the Powers of the National Labor Relations Board?

Robert L. McTiernan, Esq., rmctiernan@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-5528

Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney, Regional Director of Region 15 of the National Labor Relations Board, decided on June 13, 2024, arose out of the discharge of several Starbucks employees who formed a union organizing committee and held a media event about their efforts. After they were fired, the employees filed an unfair labor practice charge and, after investigation, the NLRB not only issued a complaint against Starbucks, but sought and obtained a court order from the United States District Court reinstating the employees until final hearing on the charge.

The District Court issued the order pursuant to Section 10 (j) of the National Labor Relations Act, which allows the NLRB to request “appropriate temporary relief,” on the grounds that there was “reasonable cause” to conclude the workers were fired illegally and that the reinstatement was “just and proper.”  The District Court’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit but reversed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided that before the NLRB can win provisional reinstatement of discharged employees, it must meet a much more rigorous four-part standard that is traditionally required before courts can issue injunctive relief, ordering an employer to take affirmative action such as reinstatement. One of the key requirements of the four-point test is that the NLRB must show that it is “likely to succeed on the merits.”

Before this recent Supreme Court’s decision, the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which includes the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, applied a less exacting standard similar to the lower courts in Starbucks rather than the traditional four-point test the Supreme Court has now mandated. An immediate result is that employees working in Western Pennsylvania, which is part of Region 6 of the NLRB, will be less likely to obtain preliminary relief, such as reinstatement to their jobs, when they allege that they were fired illegally in violation of their Section 7 rights to form a union or to engage in other “concerted activities for … mutual aid and protection.” More broadly, the Starbucks decision reflects the U.S. Supreme Court’s increasing reluctance to defer to the special role and expertise of long-established federal agencies. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Jackson directly raised a concern that the Court failed to explain how district courts should exercise their judicial power to achieve the statutory purposes of the National Labor Relations Act.

As the current majority on the National Labor Relations Board and its new General Counsel move in a more pro-Union and pro-employee direction, employers will increasingly challenge the NLRB on the grounds that it is acting beyond the statutory authority granted to it by Congress.

Contact Bob McTiernan at (412) 594-5528 or at rmctiernan@tuckerlaw.com with any questions.

June 18, 2024

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