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On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
Starbucks is blocking the Twitter accounts of workers and labor leaders who post in support of a nationwide unionization effort at the coffee giant that has spread to 30 states and hundreds of stores.
On March 1, Starbucks tweeted, “Sorry not sorry,” in response to a customer’s comment about desperately wanting to try the coffee chain’s newst drink, an iced toasted vanilla oat milk shaken espresso.
James Skretta, a former barista who helped organize a union at his Starbucks in Buffalo, retweeted the tweet from Starbucks’ corporate account, which has 11 million followers, and wrote: “@Starbucks official stance on union-busting.” Hours later, Skretta found that Starbucks had blocked his Twitter account.
Blocked Twitter accounts can’t see or reply to tweets from the account that blocked them, meaning Starbucks is limiting pro-union messages from appearing in its replies, including from employees.
“They’d rather propagate false narratives of what the company is than truly engage with what workers who are fighting for a better company are trying to say,” Skretta told Motherboard.
Leaders of Starbucks Workers United told Motherboard that these tactics are part of a more authoritarian stance Starbucks has taken toward unionization efforts since Howard Schultz reclaimed his former post as CEO of Starbucks in April. In Schultz’s first week back as CEO, the company fired at least four union organizers. Starbucks’ strategy of using social media to crack down on union activity has also included posting anti-union flyers in its stores that include fabricated tweets attributed to Starbucks Workers United’s account on Twitter.
Several days ago, Angel Krempa, a former Starbucks employee who organized a union at her store in Depew, New York, discovered Starbucks had also blocked her Twitter account, and removed her ability to comment on tweets posted by the Starbucks News Twitter account. She regularly posted in support of the union, but does not know when or in response to what post Starbucks blocked her account.
“I don’t understand what the end game is with blocking people,” said Krempa. “You can’t shut people up. If you block people, it’s only going to make people talk more. They might have thought they’re helping their cause but it’s not.”
Multiple other Starbucks workers have seen their accounts blocked in recent days.
A leader of the union drives near Buffalo, Krempa says Starbucks targeted her throughout the campaign at her store. She has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, including for retaliatory termination. She was terminated this month for not communicating to her supervisors about missing a shift when Krempa says she did in fact tell them she couldn’t make it in.
Other Twitter users, including the president of the NewsGuild, have also reported being blocked by Starbucks’ corporate Twitter account in recent days. On April 15, Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, which represents 26,000 media workers, retweeted a Starbucks tweet about “trying something new,” writing “Today is a Good Day to start a union.” Less than two hours later, he discovered he’d been blocked by Starbucks.
After asking Starbucks why they blocked his account, and not receiving a response, Schleuss says Starbucks eventually unblocked his account.
“My first job after high school was at @Starbucks (Store #10657) in Arkansas,” Schleuss wrote in response to having his account blocked. “Now I’m a union president and support Starbucks workers and @SBWorkersUnited. So the company PR machine has also blocked me. Unionize your workplace to have a voice! Management is clearly terrified.”
“What we’re seeing is a more concerted and concentrated effort from Starbucks PR to take control of a narrative that they have never had control of,” Skretta, the barista and union organizer who quit last month, told Motherboard. “They’re seeking to silence pro union partners in a way that they haven’t been able to effectively do yet.”
Since December, 16 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize with Starbucks Workers United. More than 200 stores have filed for union elections.
Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.