Starbucks on Wednesday sued the union that organizes its workers, alleging that a pro-Palestinian social media post from a union account at the start of the war between Israel and Hamas angered hundreds of customers and damaged its reputation.
Starbucks is suing for trademark infringement, demanding that Workers United stop using the Starbucks Workers United name for the coffee company's worker-organizing arm. Starbucks also wants the group to stop using a circular green logo that resembles the Starbucks logo.
On October 9, two days after Hamas militants rampaged through communities in southern Israel, Starbucks Workers United posted “Solidarity with Palestine!” on X, formerly known as Twitter. Workers United, an affiliate of the Philadelphia-based Service Employees International Union, said the post was up for no more than 40 minutes before being removed.
But posts and retweets from local Starbucks Workers United branches supporting Palestinians and condemning Israel were still visible on Wednesday. Southern Iowa, noting that Iowa City Starbucks Workers United was among those posting pro-Palestinian messages.
UAW roIn a letter sent to Workers United on October 13, Starbucks demanded that the union stop using its name and a similar logo. In its response, Workers United said Starbucks Workers United's X page clearly identifies it as a union.
"Starbucks is trying to exploit the current 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 1,000 complaints about the union's post. The Seattle-based coffee giant said workers faced 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 a Starbucks boycott.
“If you go to Starbucks, you are supporting the murder of Jews,” Republican Florida state Rep. Randy Fine tweeted on October 11.
Starbucks' official statements about the war have expressed sympathy for the 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 has not issued its own statement. But its parent, the SEIU, said Tuesday that it has many members with family members on both sides of the conflict and believes that “all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, freedom from violence and the opportunity to prosper.”
Starbucks Workers United has operated under that name since August 2021, a few months before unionizing its first Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York. Since then, at least 366 American Starbucks have voted to unionize. The campaign helped spark a wave of labor protests by Amazon workers, Hollywood writers and actors, and auto workers.
But Starbucks does not support unionization and has not yet reached a labor agreement at any of its unionized stores. The process has been controversial and workers have organized multiple strikes. Federal district judges and administrative judges at 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.