Starbucks, workers union sue each other over pro-Palestinian social media posts

Coffee giant wants Workers United to stop using its logo after it posted messages backing Palestinians and condemning Israel in wake of murderous Hamas assault

The Starbucks Workers United logo appears on the shirt of a person attending a hearing in Washington on March 29, 2023. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Starbucks Workers United logo appears on the shirt of a person attending a hearing in Washington on March 29, 2023. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Starbucks and the union organizing its workers sued each other Wednesday in a standoff sparked by a social media post over the Israel-Hamas war, which erupted after the Palestinian terror group staged a shock onslaught that killed over 1,400 people in Israel.

Starbucks sued Workers United in federal court in Iowa, saying a pro-Palestinian 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 group that is organizing the coffee company’s workers. Starbucks also wants the group to stop using a circular green logo that resembles Starbucks logo.

Workers United responded with its own filing, asking a federal court in Pennsylvania to rule that it can continue to use the Starbucks name and similar logo. Workers United also said Starbucks defamed the union by implying that it supports terrorism and violence.

On October 7, some 2,500 Hamas terrorist broke through the border fence and rampaged across communities in southern Israel under cover of a barrage of 5,000 rockets fired across the country. Over 1,100 civilians, men women and children, were killed, and in some cases mutilated, raped, or tortured. Around 200 people of all ages — including the elderly and toddlers — were abducted and taken as captives to Gaza where their fate remains largely unknown.

It was worst attack in Israel’s history and the biggest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. As Israel responds to the assault, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have continued to rain rockets on southern and central regions, targeting major cities including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The bodies of Israelis killed in a Hamas-led slaughter are gathered for identification at a military base in Ramle, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zweigenberg)

Two days after the Hamas assault, 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 — said in its lawsuit that workers put up the tweet without the authorization of union leaders. The post was up for about 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 Wednesday. Seattle-based Starbucks filed its lawsuit in 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.

Blood covers the floor of a bedroom of a resident of Be’eri, on October 11, 2023. (Times of Israel/Canaan Lidor)

In its lawsuit, Workers United noted that unions often use the company name of the workers they represent, including the Amazon Labor Union and the National Football League Players Association.

Starbucks said it received more than 1,000 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 lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, called for boycotts of Starbucks.

“If you go to Starbucks, you are supporting killing Jews,” Florida state Rep. 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 Tuesday 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.”

Starbucks Workers United has been operating under that name since August 2021, a few months before it unionized its first Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York. Since then, at least 366 US Starbucks have voted to unionize. The campaign helped kick off a wave of labor protests by Amazon workers, Hollywood writers and actors and auto workers.

But Starbucks doesn’t support unionization and hasn’t yet reached a labor agreement at any of its unionized stores. The process has been contentious, with workers organizing multiple strikes. Federal district judges and administrative judges with the National Labor Relations Board have issued 38 decisions finding unfair labor practices by Starbucks, the NLRB said, including delaying negotiations and withholding benefits from unionized workers.

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