By Dee-Ann Durbin
Starbucks has sued the union organising its workers, saying a pro-Palestine social media post from a union account early in the Israel-Hamas war angered hundreds of customers and damaged its reputation.
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. Starbucks also wants the group to stop using a circular green logo that resembles Starbucks’ logo.
Starbucks is taking its workers union to court.Credit: AP
On October 9, two days after Hamas militants rampaged across communities 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 40 minutes before it was deleted.
But posts and retweets from local Starbucks Workers United branches supporting Palestinians and condemning Israel were still visible on X on Wednesday. Seattle-based Starbucks filed its lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, noting that Iowa City Starbucks Workers United was among those posting pro-Palestinian messages.
In a letter sent to Workers United on October 13, Starbucks demanded that the union stop using its name and similar logo. In its response, Workers United said Starbucks Workers United’s page on X clearly identifies it as a union.
“Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to bolster the company’s anti-union campaign,” Workers United President Lynne Fox wrote in a letter to Starbucks.
Starbucks said it received more than 1000 complaints about the union’s post. The Seattle-based coffee giant said workers had to face hostile customers and received threatening phone calls. Vandals spray-painted Stars of David and a swastika on the windows of a Rhode Island store.
Some US politicians, including Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, called for boycotts of Starbucks.
“If you go to Starbucks, you are supporting killing Jews,” Florida state Representative Randy Fine, a Republican, tweeted on October 11.
Starbucks’ official statements on the war have expressed sympathy for innocent victims in both Israel and Gaza.
“Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of hate, terrorism and violence,” Starbucks Executive Vice President Sara Kelly wrote in a letter to employees last week.
Workers United hasn’t issued its own statement. But its parent, the SEIU, said on Tuesday 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.”
Starbucks Workers United has been operating under that name since August 2021, a few months before it unionised its first Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York. Since then, at least 366 US Starbucks have voted to unionise. The campaign helped kick off a wave of labour protests by Amazon workers, Hollywood writers and actors and autoworkers.
But Starbucks doesn’t support unionisation and hasn’t yet reached a labour agreement at any of its unionised stores. The process has been contentious, with workers organising multiple strikes. Federal district judges and administrative judges with the US National Labor Relations Board have issued 38 decisions finding unfair labour practices by Starbucks, the NLRB said, including delaying negotiations and withholding benefits from unionised workers.
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