Starbucks and a judge attack freedom of the press by demanding union documents

News Editorial Board

The slippery slope argument may be overused, but with Starbucks’ assault on freedom of the press and a reckless ruling from a federal judge supporting it, that’s where we are.

The problem, basically, is a growing interest in unionization and fears that permeate among some employers – in this case, the coffee giant Starbucks. His workers launched an organizing effort at a Buffalo store and the explosion it sparked has now implicated the federal government, via the National Labor Relations Board and allegations of labor violations, including the closure stores, firing workers, withdrawing benefits and failing to negotiate with the union.

Starbucks denies any wrongdoing and believes any issues the union has had with the organization have nothing to do with the company’s activities, but with the union’s publicity about them. It’s crazy and it’s a double whammy on the First Amendment.

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Barrel one: Starbucks argues the issue isn’t alleged misconduct — which the NLRB believes happened — but talking about it is. Free speech can certainly have consequences – who hasn’t had their own words sent back? – but it’s a bizarre view of the right to express oneself.

Second Barrel: It is no mistake that, along with freedom of speech and religion, the Founding Fathers included freedom of the press in the opening words of the Bill of Rights. These freedoms are among the main characteristics of any democracy; without them, freedom declines.

Thomas Jefferson, main author of the Declaration of Independence, understood this concept. Among his many quotes on the subject, let us quote this one, as early as 1786, in a letter to John Jay, who would later become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States: “Our freedom can only be protected by freedom of the press, nor this one. limited without danger of losing it.

The erosion of that right is the slippery slope that Starbucks and U.S. District Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. have pushed the country down.

Starbucks is attacking freedom of the press through the back door. In response to the NLRB’s allegations, it is demanding that employees and union representatives turn over to the company all documents and recordings they have of conversations with the media about unionizing stores in Buffalo. Among the news outlets cited are The Buffalo News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

While some states, including New York, have enacted protective laws that honor the spirit of press freedom, no such federal law exists. Even if it were, Starbucks — with Sinatra’s blessing — avoids a direct attack on freedom of the press by sneaking into the union’s records it despises, not those of news outlets.

Nevertheless, an attack is what it is.

“I think journalists are concerned that requiring sources to turn over their communications to reporters will have a ‘chilling effect’ on journalism,” said Samantha Barbas of the University’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy. from Buffalo School of Law. Barbas specializes in First Amendment issues.

Cathy Creighton, director of the Buffalo Co-Lab at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, was also concerned.

“This order means that every communication, text message, email that you, the reporters, have had with Starbucks employees goes to Starbucks, the employer. It doesn’t matter whether the employee/union representative spoke to you informally or no,” said Creighton, who served as a labor lawyer for three decades.

It is also, as the workers’ attorney believes, an undue effort to gain access to thousands of private union documents which, he argues, “an employer is not entitled to know and should not know”. Indeed, attorney Ian Hayes argues that Starbucks is violating employment law simply by seeking the documents.

This is a legal question for the courts to decide. But it is worrying that this powerful and ubiquitous employer, and the judge who backed him, seem so indifferent to the consequences of their actions on press freedom. This is everyone’s concern.

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