Starbucks Is Exploiting the Violence in Gaza and Israel to Attack Its Union
The president of Workers United writes that Starbucks is endangering its own employees and appears to even endorse a boycott of its own stores. “I am afraid,” said one worker. “My mom doesn’t want me to go to work.”
My grandmother and aunt were murdered at Treblinka, one of the deadliest Nazi concentration camps. Six months before liberation, my grandfather died in Nordhausen.
My father, John, spent seven years between the ages of 11 and 17 in nine different concentration camps. Czech partisans rescued him and his brother, Harry, from a forced march, during which my father had become gravely ill. After the war ended in 1945, my dad landed in Windermere outside of London and was taught to socialize and eat with a knife and fork. He learned to be a tailor. He met my mother.
They moved to the United States seeking a better life, and he started working and soon became a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. He taught his kids that unions were a cornerstone of any democracy. And he spoke every chance he could get about surviving the Holocaust. “Never forget” what happened to us, he would say.
His children learned that lesson. We’ve lived our lives with those two words in our hearts, always. Never forget.
So you could imagine my shock and deep hurt when, this week, the world’s largest coffee company launched a series of attacks on me and more than 9,000 Starbucks workers who have voted to join together in a union, alleging we support terrorism, hate and violence.
The company seized on a single tweet from the Starbucks Workers United account expressing solidarity with Palestine that was written by one person and not authorized by the union or its workers, and that was quickly deleted. It conveniently ignored other tweets that called for peace.
The company is using that one tweet to, over and over again, falsely paint Workers United, whose forerunners — the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union — were founded by Jewish immigrants who welcomed workers of every race, religion and ethnicity as unhinged supporters of terrorism. Like the Starbucks workers who are building their union, the ILGWU was founded at the turn of the last century by mostly young workers. Many in the labor movement at the time thought that because they were mainly young women, they were un-organizable, as some today think of baristas and other food service workers.
Never mind the facts. Starbucks saw an opportunity to capitalize on the horrific and tragic events in the Middle East to further its unprecedented, illegal union busting campaign, trying to bully workers into abandoning their union name and logo via a cease and desist letter and federal lawsuit.
Those attacks reached a new level on Thursday, October 19 when the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) posted on its website that it had spoken with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and worked with him and the Starbucks’ corporate team to identify unionized Starbucks stores that the OJC’s members could boycott. The OJC proceeded to post a list of those unionized stores — provided by Starbucks — online, suggesting, without any evidence, that the employees at those stores “support Hamas.”
I’m the president of a union of young workers who are now terrified that they’ve been placed on a hit list by their employer. At a time when we should be focused on the human tragedy taking place in Gaza and Israel, Starbucks is instead taking every chance it gets to bash its employees as supporters of hate and violence without any concern for truth — or consequences. It’s gone so far as to advocate for a boycott of its own stores. Schultz told the OJC he would close down all the unionized stores if he could, according to the OJC’s statement.
Starbucks is seeking to exploit the ongoing tragedy in Gaza and Israel to bolster an anti-union campaign that has already resulted in more than 270 violations of the National Labor Relations Act by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public.
I, along with the leaders of Workers United, am responsible for these 9,000-plus workers, most of whom are in their teens and early 20s. They’re rightfully terrified by all of this, especially given the heightened tensions around the conflict in the Middle East and the fact that we have already seen disgusting acts of bigoted violence in the United States.
“I am afraid,” one worker wrote to us. “My mom doesn’t want me to go to work.” Another wrote: “I saw this and started panicking.”
Starbucks is putting its own employees at risk. It’s reprehensible. It’s also illegal. The company’s board must step in and put a stop to Starbucks’ actions before someone gets hurt. If my dad were here, I know he’d want me to speak out. In his memory, and channeling his strength and resilience, I do so here. Never forget.
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Lynne Fox is president of Workers United and president of the Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee.