Demands Grow to Boycott Starbucks Amid Lawsuits Over Its Union’s Anti-Israel Statements

Starbucks and its baristas’ labor union are suing each other over the union’s social media posts that celebrated Hamas’s attacks on Gaza.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file
Advocates of the Starbucks employees' union at the Capitol, March 29, 2023. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file

The political turmoil over the war in the Middle East is coming for America’s largest coffee chain. Starbucks and its baristas’ labor union are suing each other over the union’s social media posts that celebrated Hamas’s attacks on Gaza.

As the company navigates legal challenges, it faces growing pushback from both pro-Israel lawmakers and pro-Palestinian customers who are turning down their pumpkin spice lattes in acts of political protest. 

Last week, Starbucks filed a lawsuit against Starbucks Workers United in a federal court in Iowa. It alleges that the union has harmed Starbucks’ image and reputation by using its name, logo, and intellectual property in a deleted X post shared shortly after the October 7 attacks, which expressed “Solidarity with Palestine.” The Iowa, Chicago, and Boston union chapters also endorsed rallies in support of the attacks.

Lawmakers are now accusing Starbucks of antisemitism. “This is disgusting,” says Senator Scott of Florida in response to the union’s celebration of the attacks by Hamas. “Boycott Starbucks until its leadership strongly denounces and takes action against this horrific support of terrorism.” A Florida state representative, Randy Fine, writes that “if you go to Starbucks, you are supporting killing Jews.” 

The company, though, “unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate and violence,” its executive vice president, Sara Kelly, said in a message to its partners last week. Workers United and its local affiliates, she asserts, “do not represent our company’s views, positions, or beliefs.” She adds that “the ongoing confusion” has led “angry, hurt customers” to confront the company’s partners in stores and online with graphic and violent complaints. 

While the company is seeking to separate itself from the union’s anti-Israel sentiments, customers are indeed “angry.” Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby lists the unionized Starbucks stores in the Boston area and urges people to avoid them, issuing the warning: “there might be blood in your cup.”

The backlash against Starbucks is coming from both sides as American consumer brands find themselves torn apart over the war in Gaza. Palestinian supporters are calling for a boycott of Starbucks alongside Disney, which is donating $2 million in aid to Israel, and McDonald’s, whose franchise in Israel is providing free meals to the Israeli military. 

“By boycotting Israel’s three biggest donors in this genocide, we can send a message that Americans do not condone this ethnic cleansing,” one user shared on X. Another post pleading its 1 million viewers to boycott the three brands even called Israel “Israhell.”

Meanwhile, the Starbucks workers’ union is filing its own lawsuit against the company in federal court in Pennsylvania. “Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East to bolster the company’s anti-union campaign,” the president of Workers United, Lynne Fox, wrote in a letter to Starbucks’ legal counsel. Ms. Fox accuses the company of defamation by “falsely implying that the union supports terrorism.”

The union, though, hasn’t softened its support of Hamas. On Friday, Starbucks Workers United, which has previously landed support from Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders, affirmed on X that they “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.” They accused their employer of “shamefully using this devastating humanitarian crisis to make false statements against our union and to vilify us.”

Workers United, the labor union which represents 86,000 workers, including the Starbucks baristas, hasn’t issued its own statement in response to the war. Its parent, the Service Employees International Union, has stated that “all Israelis and Palestinians deserve safety, freedom from violence, and the opportunity to thrive.” 

Affiliates of SEIU, though, have cheered that “the labor movement must support liberation for all and fight all forms of oppression.” The executive director of the SEIU in Connecticut, Kooper Caraway, said at an anti-Israel rally on October 9th that “our comrades are in Gaza” and “our enemies are the CEOs.” After sparking controversy, he resigned on Thursday. 

As Starbucks gears up for dueling lawsuits down the road, the American consumer staple is clinging to its initial proclamation of support for the Jewish state. As its executive vice president, Ms. Kelly, asserted in her Tuesday message, “we intend to pursue all legal options in defense of our partners and our company” — and, seemingly, in defense of Israel.

The New York Sun

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