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HomenewsStarbucks threatens to sue union that expressed support for Palestine

Starbucks threatens to sue union that expressed support for Palestine

In an acknowledgment that an effort to boycott Starbucks is having an impact, the giant coffee chain has issued a cease-and-desist letter to a union representing about 9,000 of its baristas and other workers who have publicly sided with Palestinians after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.

The sternly worded letter addressed to Lynne Fox, the international president of Workers United, threatens to sue the group should it not immediately stop using the Starbucks name and logo, and it demands the union issue a statement saying that its support of Palestinians over Israel does not reflect the position of Starbucks, which is not affiliated with the union.

“Anger against Starbucks persists because your organization’s actions have fueled the inaccurate perception that Starbuck’s supports violence against civilians,” read the letter signed by Rocky Tsai, legal counsel to Starbucks.

On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest ever airstrikes on Gaza. As of Monday, at least 4,000 people had been killed in Israel and Gaza, the Associated Press reported. Almost 200 Israelis, including children, were taken hostage.

The letter, which was obtained by Newsweek, said Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida “amplified the public outrage against Starbucks resulting from your organization’s statements by calling for a nationwide boycott of Starbucks.”

The attorney said the union’s political position on the conflict between Hamas and Israel has “directly led to enraged and volatile consumers confronting baristas and making over 1,000 complaints to the company.”

The letter was prompted by a social media post from Starbucks Workers United that expressed “Solidarity with Palestine!” that has since been removed. Union chapters in Iowa, Chicago and Boston promoted rallies in support of Palestinians after some 5,000 Hamas rockets rained down on Israel.

While the letter indicated that the union’s actions have had a negative impact on the safety of employees and the reputation of Starbucks, it did not indicate the boycott effort has had an impact on sales.

Starbucks Workers United represents workers at 340 of the more than 34,000 stores worldwide, though its actions have had an outsized impact on the company’s reputation, according the cease-and-desist letter.

The letter said that baristas worldwide have been put in a position in which they “must de-escalate, calm down and in some cases engage security for their own safety” due to irate customers who believe that Starbucks “supports attacks on civilians.”

Starbucks Workers United is a subset of Workers United, which calls itself a progressive labor organization that promotes justice, education, equity, compassion and civility, and is a subset of the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Newsweek reached out to Workers United and to the SEIU for comment.

Prior to the cease-and-desist letter, Starbucks denounced the union’s position and called the attacks initiated by Hamas heinous acts of terror.

The letter, though, acknowledged that its previous statements were not enough to counter the perception that a union unaffiliated with Starbucks and representing only a small portion of its workers is supportive of the Hamas attacks.

“By fomenting this anger, your organization has recklessly endangered the safety and well-being of hundreds of thousands of baristas around the world, including its own members and those who fled conflicts or have friends and family living in conflict,” the letter read.

Update, 10/16 at 4:50 p.m. ET: The story was updated to note that the letter did not mention sales.

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