(Image from The Telegraph).
Starbucks has sued Starbucks Workers United over a pro-Palestinian social media post released on 9 October.
On that day, two days after Hamas militants began attacks in southern Israel, Starbucks Workers United posted “Solidarity with Palestine!” on X (formerly known as Twitter). Workers United, a Philadelphia-based affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has said the post was up for no more than forty minutes before it was deleted (Independent, 2023).
(Image from Ynet News).
However, posts and retweets from local Starbucks Workers United branches supporting Palestinians and condemning Israel were still visible on X since Wednesday (Independent, 2023).
Starbucks has since sued the union organising its workers Wednesday, saying a pro-Palestinian social media post from the Philadelphia union account has angered hundreds of customers and damaged its reputation (Independent, 2023). Starbucks is suing for trademark infringement, demanding that Workers United stop using the name Starbucks Workers United for the branch that is organising the coffee company’s workers (Independent, 2023). Starbucks also wants the group to stop using a circular green logo that resembles Starbucks’ logo (Independent, 2023). This letter was sent on 13 October to the union with these demands, and a lawsuit was filed in the Iowa District Court on 18 October (Ynet News, 2023).
Responding to the letter and demands, Workers United said Starbucks Workers United’s page on X clearly identifies it as a union. Moreover, Workers United President Lynne Fox wrote in a letter to Starbucks: “Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to bolster the company’s anti-union campaign” (AP News, 2023). Starbucks Workers United founder Jaz Brisack, who has become a symbol of social justice in America in recent years, published additional posts condemning Israel, like “There are no two sides to apartheid” (Ynet News, 2023). The Union filed their own lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court, claiming Starbucks was trying to tarnish the union’s reputation and imply it supports terror and violence (Ynet News, 2023).
In its lawsuit, Workers United noted that unions often use the company name of the workers they represent, such as Amazon Labor Union, and thus Starbucks’ lawsuit is unfair (AP News, 2023).
“I think Starbucks is trying to weaponize conflict in the Middle East against workers who are trying to unionise,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer at Julien, Mirer, Singla, and Goldstein, who has worked to represent the union. “I simply do not understand how they can trivialise something that has affected thousands of people.” (Vice, 2023).
Starbucks has since stated that it has received more than 1,000 complaints about the union’s post (AP News, 2023). The Seattle-based coffee giant said workers had to face hostile customers and receive threatening phone calls. Vandals spray-painted Stars of David and a swastika on the windows of a Rhode Island store (AP News, 2023).
Starbucks also issued a statement clarifying that “the posts [from Workers United] do not represent the company’s position. Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate, and violence, and we strongly disagree with the views expressed by Workers United. None of these groups speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent our company’s views, positions, or beliefs.” (Ynet News, 2023).
Some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, have even called for boycotts of Starbucks, declaring in a tweet on 11 October: “If you go to Starbucks, you are supporting killing Jews” (AP News, 2023).
According to Starbucks’ official statements on the war, the company has expressed sympathy for innocent victims in both Israel and Gaza.
As stated in a letter written to employees last week by Starbucks Executive Vice President Sara Kelly, “Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of hate, terrorism, and violence” (AP News, 2023).
Workers United hasn’t issued its own statement, but its parent, the SEIU, said on 17 October that it has many members with family on both sides of the conflict and believes “all Israelis and Palestinians deserve safety, freedom from violence, and the opportunity to thrive” (AP News, 2023).
This double lawsuit case stems from the legacy of conflict between the union and the company since the union’s inception. Starbucks Workers United has been operating under the name since August 2021, a few months before it unionized its first Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York (AP News, 2023). This union represents around 9,000 workers across 340 stores in the US (DailyMail, 2023). The campaign helped kick off a wave of labour protests by Amazon workers, Hollywood writers and actors, and auto workers (Independent, 2023).
However, Starbucks does not support unionisation and hasn’t yet reached a labour agreement at any of its unionised stores (AP News, 2023). The process has been contentious, with workers organising multiple strikes. Issued by judges from the National Labor Relations Board, 38 decisions finding unfair labour practices by Starbucks has been said by the NLRB, including delaying negotiations and withholding benefits from unionised workers (AP News, 2023).
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
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