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Opinion | The Supreme Court Ruling in the Starbucks Case Proves the Law Won’t Save Labor


As a union organizer and Starbucks worker, I’ve seen the effects of corporate retaliation up close. In December 2020, I took a job at the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks in Buffalo, with the goal of unionizing my workplace. A year later, our store voted to become the first unionized corporate Starbucks location in the United States, sparking a wave of organizing across the company. In response to our union campaign, Starbucks unleashed a union-busting effort that began with managers and executives swarming our stores in Buffalo and escalated to firings (including my own), store closings, and the withholding of new benefits, like seniority pay and credit card tipping, from unionized stores nationwide.

The workers at the heart of the Supreme Court case, who became known as the Memphis Seven, launched their campaign on Jan. 17, 2022 — Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Nikki, a shift supervisor at the Tennessee store, called me that day. She told me she had caught Covid at work and brought it home to her daughter. Unionizing would allow her to advocate for better health and safety conditions, as we had done earlier that month at the Buffalo store where I worked, going on strike in order to be able to self-isolate after exposure to the virus.

When we met on Zoom that night, the Memphis workers wrote a letter announcing their union campaign. Dr. King had been killed while fighting for union rights in their city, and they hoped to continue that struggle by organizing. “Please, in the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. do not bring your so-called ‘pro-partner’ anti-union campaign to Memphis,” they asked.

But Starbucks did, in fact, bring its union-busting to Memphis. Less than a month later, on Feb. 8, Starbucks fired all but one of the organizing committee members after they invited the media into the store to speak about their organizing efforts.

The Memphis workers won their union before any of the fired workers were reinstated, due not to legal interventions but to the tireless efforts of Reaghan Hall, the sole committee member who hadn’t been fired, who organized the new hires. Several months later, on Aug. 18, the fired workers won a coveted 10(j) injunction. But even with the injunction in place, it took until October for Starbucks to exhaust its opportunities for appeal and finally reinstate the workers.



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It’s about the importance of the case in our view, we may discuss the case with the respective client, and we may allow the respective lawyers to provide their opinion on argued cases. This is an important task. Both over and under-performance of the lawyers can lead to bad laws that will affect the entire society and those who come after them. We must be able to have a critical view of such important and consequential performances and roles in our society.