After the workers union of American coffee chain Starbucks’ shared posts on social media in which they aim to show “solidarity with Palestine” in the wake of Hamas’ attack against Israel on October 7, as reported by Ynet, the company has pressed charges against the union following online outrage at its workers’ actions.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Iowa District Court on Wednesday, Starbucks alleges that the posts made by the union angered many customers and harmed its reputation. Additionally, the company claims a violation of trademark rights and demands the union cease using the name "Starbucks Workers United" and its round green logo similar to Starbucks' own.
The workers' union pushed back and responded with its own lawsuit against the company filed in a Pennsylvania court, where it claimed Starbucks was trying to tarnish the union’s reputation and imply it supports terrorism and violence.
The union demands to continue using its existing name and logo and said that "all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, freedom from violence and an opportunity to thrive." It noted that its members have friends and families on both sides of the conflict.
This controversy came to light shortly after the deadly attack in Israel. The Starbucks Workers United, which represents over 9,000 baristas across the United States, shared a post with an image of a bulldozer breaking through the Gaza border and accused the Israeli “occupation,” of turning Gaza into a "mass prison." Above that, the union wrote: "Solidarity with Palestine."
Local workers' unions of the chain in Chicago, Boston and Iowa also published posts on their official social media pages accusing Israel of attacking Hamas, of being an apartheid state, and oppressing Palestinians. “We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and condemn the IDF for senselessly and viciously bombing, murdering and injuring innocent Palestinians, as well as for creating and funding Hamas in the 80s to discourage Palestinian solidarity.”
Starbucks Workers United founder Jaz Brisack has become a symbol of social justice in America over the years and joined in the tweets. Brisack published additional posts condemning Israel, such as "There are no two sides to apartheid."
Starbucks issued a statement clarifying that "the posts do not represent the company's position Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and we strongly disagree with the views expressed by Workers United. None of these groups speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent our company’s views, positions or beliefs.”
This, however, did not prevent the sunsequent outrage on social media, with boycotts declared against the coffeehouse chain.
The outcry reached the doorstep of Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who slammed the workers' union in an official statement: "This is disgusting. Every American should condemn the atrocities that Iran-backed Hamas terrorists committed in Israel. Boycott Starbucks until its leadership strongly denounces and takes action against this horrific support of terrorism."
The Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) launched a campaign with the slogan "Drinking a cup of Starbucks is drinking a cup of Jewish blood." The OJC's head approached former Starbucks CEO, Jewish businessman Howard Schultz, with a request to sue the workers' union.
On Wednesday, Starbucks’ Vice President Sara Kelly issued a statement to shareholders and employees directly addressing the lawsuit: “In addition to the heartache we are all feeling during this moment, like many of you, I am also deeply troubled by the spread of misinformation and inflammatory headlines stemming from images used and statements made last week by Workers United.”
“Unfortunately, as violence against the innocent in the region continues to escalate, some people are mistakenly tying these remarks to us, because Workers United and its affiliates and members continue to use our name, logo, and intellectual property,” the statement read.
“Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism, hate and violence committed by Hamas, and we strongly disagree with the views expressed by Workers United, including its local affiliates, union organizers and those who identify as members of Starbucks Workers United — none of these groups speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent our company’s views, positions or beliefs. Their words and actions belong to them, and them alone.”
According to Kelly, the "ongoing confusion" within the company has led to violent incidents where angry customers clashed with employees at branches and company offices, and sent graphic and violent messages showing the war’s atrocities.
“We contacted Workers United demanding they immediately stop using our company name, logo and intellectual property, and issue an immediate correction. They rejected that request. As a result, Starbucks will file litigation against the union in federal court, and we intend to pursue all legal options in defense of our partners and our company,” she wrote.