As conflict in the Middle East threatens to escalate, so does a related war between Starbucks and union organizers.
The union group Workers United late Thursday accused Starbucks officials of assisting a boycott of the coffeehouse chain’s own stores—but only the 300 that have organized unions.
In an amended National Labor Relations Board filing Thursday, Workers United accused Starbucks of unfair labor practices, saying that corporate executives shared a list of the 300 union stores with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce “for the purpose of initiating a boycott of unionized stores.”
Starbucks, however, insisted Friday that the list did not come from the company.
The lawsuits stem from social media posts by union organizers that expressed support for Palestine after the militant group Hamas initiated a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, prompting an even more deadly response in Gaza that is ongoing.
Starbucks in its lawsuit alleged trademark infringement and argued that many mistook the Starbucks Workers United logo used in some of those pro-Palestine posts as representing the Seattle-based coffeehouse chain, though Starbucks had publicly condemned the violence in the region without taking sides.
As a result, many have called for a boycott of the coffeehouse chain, and Starbucks officials say store workers have been harassed. One store was vandalized with a swastika and Stars of David, and the customer care division has been flooded with complaints and violent and graphic photos, Starbucks said.
Among those calling for a boycott was the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJCC).
But in a post this week, the OJCC wrote that Starbucks executives—including former CEO Howard Schultz—had reached out to the group to clarify that the pro-Palestine messages posted by some union supporters did not reflect the views of the company.
The OJCC post described a “heartfelt” conversation between Schultz and the chamber’s founder and CEO Duvi Honig in which the former Starbucks CEO “reiterated his heartfelt identity as a supporter of Israel with a Jewish soul.”
The chamber said Starbucks corporate shared “a list of stores to avoid” and are working with the group to “take a firm stance against the 300 union stores and their employees who support Hamas.” That list is publicly available on the chamber's website, and it appears to link to an anonymous union supporter, who is described as a "touring musician" who believes in collective bargaining.But a spokesman for Starbucks said the list did not come from the company, and that it could have been easily found from other sources, including union websites. The list is also included in the union's NLRB filing.
In that filing, Workers United alleged that Starbucks’ decision to identify the union stores was designed to intentionally incite the “fear of workplace violence and retaliation against employees and customers, for the purpose of chilling support for the union.”
The union group also said it implied a threat to close the stores.
“The employee’s fears of workplace violence are not unfounded due to the current climate in the United States of heightened emotions around the conflict in the Middle East,” the Workers United filing said. “The Employer is using the current global tragedy against its own employees to chill support for the Union.”
Workers United, in its lawsuit, said it had not authorized the social media posts expressing solidarity with Palestine, and some of those initial posts were deleted. But the views persist on social media.
In a statement Friday, Workers United said, “Starbucks is leveraging a humanitarian crisis with a rising death toll to try to break our union and silence workers’ voices. The company has no regard for workers’ safety, the ethics of their actions, or the consequences of their continued lies. This is disgusting and unacceptable behavior.”
The dispute this week is the latest in an ongoing battle between Starbucks and Workers United, which earlier this month escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though about 325 locations have been successfully unionized, according to Starbucks’ lawsuit (Workers United says more than 360 stores), the company and labor organizers have not yet agreed on a contract.UPDATE: This story has been updated with a response from Starbucks.
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