Starbucks Union organizers were directed to share communications with reporters | Wbactive

After workers in Buffalo, New York, won the first Starbucks union election of 2021, baristas at 345 Starbucks locations in 39 states across the country have filed for a union ballot. Employees at over 100 stores went on strike on Nov. 17, “Red Cup Day,” when customers flock to Starbucks stores for a free, seasonal, reusable cup. It was the largest single-day strike by Starbucks workers in the United States. Meanwhile, the original Buffalo organizers are locked in a legal battle, and the latest development has alarming implications for the future of press freedom.

In September, US District Court Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. ordered Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the workers’ group representing Starbucks workers, to cease communications with journalists about organizing in the Buffalo area. This includes “documents, emails, texts and other electronic communications between workers and ‘any digital, print, radio, television, Internet-based or other media’ related to their organizing efforts,” it said The Washington Post.

The order follows a case that began in June this year after a complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in May alleging that Starbucks found more than 200 labor law violations at nearly 20 Buffalo-area stores was accused. These alleged violations include stricter policing of pro-union workers and denial of social benefits, closure of stores where there is union activity, and failure to negotiate with the union. The petition to end Starbucks’ alleged anti-union campaign was filed by Linda Leslie, Buffalo Regional Director of the NLRB.

Normally, requesting private messages with journalists would be illegal, but since the request is directed at the sources and not reporters, it’s legal in New York state.

The request for notices from the organizers came from Starbucks corporate attorneys who wished to subpoena the notices as evidence in the ongoing case. Starbucks has denied any wrongdoing. Normally this request would be illegal, but this post reports that the order is legal in upstate New York because it is aimed at the sources rather than reporters.

The NLRB filed a motion to block Starbucks’ request, but it was overruled. SBWU is seeking to appeal the order in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and is shelving the case pending a decision.

In a statement, the NewsGuild-CWA – the largest union of communications workers in North America – condemned “in the strongest possible terms[ed]The order, it argues, will bar workers from speaking to reporters, barring the public from reading about labor issues.


Judge Sinatra, whom Donald Trump appointed in 2018, is a member of the Federalist Society, the notorious conservative legal group dedicated to reshaping the US legal system in his libertarian vision. Its co-chair is Leonard Leo, the right-wing leader who in August received the largest-ever political donation — $1.6 billion from conservative industrialist Barre Seid — to one of his charities.

Founded in the 1980s, the Federalist Society began as a discussion group for conservative law students at universities across the country. It has since evolved into a “libertarian intellectual network” of conservative lawyers, judges, law students and professors that has gained significant political clout.

Amanda Hollis-Brusky, professor of political science at Pomona College and author of the book Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution, discussed with NPR the Federalist Society’s role in shaping Trump’s list of 25 Supreme Court nominees in 2018: “I would say a very direct role is that played by Leonard Leo, who is the executive vice president of the Federal Society was, took over leave society to make that list for President Trump,” she said. “And so in many ways this list is a product of the federal society and its network.”

Leo is notorious for using his Dark Money network to influence the Supreme Court nomination process and promote a far-right agenda. US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has called Leo a “conservative kingmaker”.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the percentage of unionized workers is lowest in the food preparation and service industries. The same report shows that New York is the state with the highest percentage of unionized workers, next to Hawaii.

At the moment, workers at Starbucks and SBWU are awaiting the results of their appeals, but this order makes it clear that workers’ freedom to speak to the press about their working conditions, and the ability for journalists to share this with the public, is at stake .

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