Sean P. Redmond Sean P. Redmond
Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


May 14, 2024


The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on April 23 heard oral arguments in a case that could affect the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) ability to seek injunctions in federal court. The legal showdown involves Starbucks, but how the court decides the case has significant implications for other employers.

The controversy began in February 2022 when Starbucks fired seven workers, five of whom were actively trying to unionize their Tennessee store, because they entered their store after hours and allowed a news crew inside, all without authorization and in violation of corporate policy. The company did not discipline another organizer who was not present and likewise did not discipline two others for more minor infractions.

Nevertheless, the NLRB stepped in and obtained a court order compelling the company to rehire the workers while the case proceeded through the agency’s administrative proceedings—a process that can take years.

At the heart of the dispute lies the question of whether courts should evaluate the NLRB’s requests for injunctions under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) using a traditional four-factor test or a more lenient standard. The four factors include whether the Board has a likelihood of success on the merits, whether it faces irreparable harm, whether the balance of hardships is in the agency’s favor, and whether an injunction is in the public interest. Several circuit courts rely on that test when considering injunctions.

In contrast, other circuits grant preliminary injunctions if they find a request “just and proper” without additional factors. The stark difference among the circuit courts caused a proverbial “circuit split,” which prompted Starbuck’s appeal to the Supreme Court and that court’s granting certiorarito hear the case. 

During oral arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to side with Starbucks. However, the NLRB maintains that its authority to seek injunctions is well-established and doesn’t require additional proof beyond the “just and proper” standard.

The Court’s decision could impact how the NLRB handles unionization cases and its ability to seek injunctions against companies accused of interfering with organizing efforts. If the Court rules in favor of Starbucks, it may make it harder for the NLRB to obtain injunctions in such situations. Conversely, a ruling in favor of the NLRB would  permit the agency’s general counsel to seek injunctions more aggressively, something the current general counsel has said she wants.

The Court’s ruling will shape the landscape for labor relations and set a precedent for future cases. One hopes it comes down on the side of the more balanced four-factor test, but only time will tell what it decides.

About the authors

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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