Make no mistake, unions do not mind and probably actually enjoy hitting employers in the pocketbook, but when it comes to intellectual property, some companies are feeling the pain more than others. Such is the case for Trader Joe’s, Medieval Times, and especially Starbucks.
The latter has obviously accumulated the most union-related headaches in general, and the NLRB is itching to make an example out of the company. So, Starbucks certainly did not need another controversy on its hands, but these trends tend to hit the coffeehouse giant the hardest. Let’s dive in.
Trader Joe’s recently sued independent union Trader Joe’s United on the grounds that union use of the company logo on unauthorized merchandise could cause customer “confusion.” The union has filed for a dismissal while labeling the lawsuit as retaliation for worker organizing.
Medieval Times is further along in the same process. A federal judge has scrapped a lawsuit from the dinner theater company and declared that the American Guild of Variety Artists’s use of the logo did not cause a “plausible likelihood” that customers would confuse the union’s actions as arriving with a company endorsement.
This is a particularly troublesome development with tangible results.
Starbucks is, unfortunately, experiencing the real brand damage that can occur when a union appropriates a company logo, and in turn, customers blame the company for an unsavory outcome. This has actually turned into quite the nightmare scenario concerning ongoing Middle East violence, a hot potato topic that prompts fierce arguments on both sides.
The company surely never asked to be drawn into a political debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet that has been the result of a now-deleted social media post – reading “Solidarity with Palestine!” next to a bulldozer mowing down an Israel-Gaza border fence – from SEIU affiliate Starbucks Workers United. When the post surfaced in early October, thousands of civilians had already been killed in Israel and Gaza during and after attacks by the terrorist group Hamas.
Over 1,000 complaints rapidly surfaced against the company after – as the union questionably claims – a rogue member published the post. As well, Jewish organizations called for a “widespread” U.S. boycott of Starbucks after interpreting the social media post as expressing “solidarity with Hamas.” In response, the company has “unequivocally condemn[ed] acts of terrorism, hate and violence.”
Starbucks and the union have since filed dueling lawsuits over whether the union damaged the company’s reputation via the social media post’s pro-Palestine stance.
Elsewhere, an SEIU Connecticut officer has resigned after the fallout from his own recent fiery speech that included, “Our enemies are not in Gaza; our enemies are the CEOs who are cutting our pay and benefits.” This prompted condemnation from across the political spectrum about the remarks, which were deemed “inappropriate” as well as “incredibly insensitive” and “sympathetic to terrorist acts.”
A lingering question: Did a union member engineer that “oopsie” social media post? Regardless of the answer, damage can occur through union use of company logos, and courts are so far siding with unions.