(Summary prepared by Lise Gelernter, NAA member)

On February 23, 2023, a federal district court judge in Maryland ordered Starbucks to reinstate a worker who had engaged in protected union activity at an Ann Arbor, Michigan store.  The judge also ordered Starbucks to cease and desist from any further similar actions.  Kerwin v. Starbucks Corporation, __ F.Supp.3d __ (E.D. Mich. 2/23/23) (document can be downloaded here.)The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had instigated the action against Starbucks after an administrative law judge (ALJ) found, after a four-day hearing, that Starbucks had violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) when it fired the worker because she had been active in NLRA-protected union organizing efforts to have the Workers United union represent workers at the Starbucks store.

Under Section 10(j) of the NLRA (29 U.S.C. § 160(j)), the NLRB can petition a federal district court to issue injunctions against entities or people who are violating the NLRA.  Courts can grant those petitions when necessary “to restore and preserve the status quo, pending final Board adjudication . . . to avoid frustration of the basic remedial purposes of the [NLRA] and possible harm to the public interest.”  Fleischut v. Nixon, Detroit Diesel, Inc., 859 F.2d 26, 28–29 (6th Cir. 1988).

In the Ann Arbor case, an ALJ had found during an administrative proceeding that the fired worker, Hannah Whitbeck, had engaged in protected union organizing activity and that Starbucks committed an unfair labor practice when it fired her because of that organizing activity.  In the court case, Judge Goldsmith held that this showed that there was reasonable cause to believe that Starbucks had violated the NLRA, which, in turn, justified injunctive relief.

Since the purpose of 10(j) injunctive relief is to restore parties to the status quo pending further NLRB proceedings in the Starbucks matter, the court ordered the following injunctive relief:

  1. reinstatement of Ms. Whitbeck;
  2. requiring Starbucks to cease and desist from violating the NLRA at its Main Street, Ann Arbor store;
  3. requiring Starbucks to post and read a copy of the court’s order to its employees at one or more meetings.

The NLRB had sought nationwide cease-and-desist and post-and-read orders applicable at all Starbucks stores in the United States, but the judge found that there was not enough evidence yet of a corporate-wide practice of firing workers for their union activity.  Most of the 24 unfair labor practice proceedings against Starbucks in other locations were still in the early stages, the judge noted, making it impossible to establish at this time that Starbucks was violating the NLRA on a nationwide basis.