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Supreme Court Curbs Labor Board Power

In a victory for employers and the NAM’s amicus program, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for the National Labor Relations Board to obtain court orders in labor disputes, according to The New York Times (subscription).

The case: In February 2022, Starbucks fired seven workers who were attempting to unionize a store in Tennessee. The company said it had fired them for allowing a television crew into a closed store, but the employees argued that they were fired for their unionization efforts.

  • The NLRB immediately obtained a court order requiring Starbucks to rehire the employees while their case went through the agency’s administrative process—a procedure that can sometimes take up to two years. Starbucks pushed back, and the case ended up before the Supreme Court.

The dispute: The NLRB argued that temporary injunctions could be granted by courts as long as the labor board could show that there was “reasonable cause” to believe the company violated labor law, without requiring the NLRB to prove any additional factors. Starbucks argued that the NLRB should be held to a stricter standard—the same standard that is applied to other federal agencies and most other court orders.

  • The NAM Legal Center weighed in with amicus briefs at both the petition and merits stages, underscoring that temporary injunctions are an extraordinary remedy reserved for extreme cases and that applying the unduly permissive standard advocated by the NLRB would subject employers to unreasonable burdens.

The result: The nine justices unanimously rejected the NLRB’s argument choosing instead to endorse a more consistent, stricter threshold for court orders and injunctions.

  • “The majority opinion rejected the board’s argument that the differences between the two standards were semantic. ‘The reasonable-cause standard goes far beyond simply fine-tuning the traditional criteria,’ the majority wrote. ‘It substantively lowers the bar for securing a preliminary injunction.’”
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