The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a 2008 ruling that struck down Starbucks' ban on baristas wearing more than one union button.
An appeals court has reinstated Starbucks’ right to prevent baristas from wearing more than one pro-union button while on duty.
The ban on multiple buttons was struck down in 2008 by an administrative-law judge at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which subsequently supported the judge’s decision.
The case stems from a contentious relationship Starbucks has had for years with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union.
Last week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the buttons case and another decision regarding the termination of a New York City barista who also was an organizer for the IWW. The appeals court said that, apart from the worker’s organizing efforts, he likely would have been fired for reasons involving his work performance.
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The appeals court sent a second wrongful-termination case back to the NLRB for further consideration.
Although the pro-union buttons in question were small, Starbucks argued that without a ban on multiple buttons, employees could turn themselves into “personal message boards” and “seriously erode” the information conveyed by buttons Starbucks itself issues to staff members.
The appeals court agreed, saying Starbucks’ buttons are part of its public image and that it is entitled to prevent the distraction that multiple union buttons could create.
“The record reveals that one employee attempted to display eight union pins on her pants, shirts, hat, and apron. Wearing such a large number of union buttons would risk serious dilution of the information contained on Starbucks’s buttons,” the appeals court said.
The buttons case is separate from seven labor settlements by Starbucks from 2005 to 2009, all related to the IWW — the group that decades ago supported the 40-hour workweek and which has declined for years to reveal how many Starbucks workers are members.
Starbucks has admitted no wrongdoing in the cases.
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.