Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy drew criticism from leading labor groups and Democrats for warning his employees against unionizing, vowing that if they did form a union, he would “crush it and reassert my dominance.”
Portnoy’s comments elicited serious responses from the New York Department of Labor, the AFL-CIO, and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“If you’re a boss tweeting firing threats to employees trying to unionize, you are likely breaking the law &can be sued,in your words, ‘on the spot.’” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Tuesday.
If you’re a boss tweeting firing threats to employees trying to unionize, you are likely breaking the law &can be sued,in your words, “on the spot.”
ALL workers in the US have the protected freedom to organize for better conditions.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 13, 2019
Barstool Sports is an irreverent sports commentary website, known for baiting the media and picking feuds with other outlets, that features stories such as “Is Russian ‘Booty Slapping Championships’ The Sport Of The Future?” The company is based in New York and employs between 50 and 200 people, according to its LinkedIn profile.
Portnoy began the union controversy on Monday when he tweeted, “Heard @ringer employees want to unionize. Little refresher how I feel about unions.” His tweet linked to a 2015 commentary in which he said, “BAHAHA! I hope and I pray that Barstool employees try to unionize. I can’t tell you how much I want them to unionize. Just so I can smash their little union to smithereens.” He threatened in the commentary, “No more free water! No more vacation days! I’m gonna dump rats into the walls!”
Over the next several hours Portnoy retweeted people stating that he was violating labor laws. He tweeted, “And on and on it goes. I love the Internet.”
Portnoy continued to egg his critics on Tuesday. When a labor lawyer tweeted that he would happily represent Barstool Sports workers, Portnoy retweeted it and said, “Anybody who hires this lawyer will be fired immediately and I will personally sue you for damages and back wages.”
Stories on the Barstool Sports website adopted a carefree attitude toward the controversy. Contributor “Donnie Does” wrote, “Portnoy has stated publicly that he would mercilessly crush any attempt Barstool employees take to unionize and I don’t have a problem with that. I love my job and know where the door is if that ever changes. But you have to admit, there is a time and a place for unions, like when your boss forces you to eat squirming mudfish with a chicken blood chaser for not meeting your quota.”
As the day progressed, the tweets began to attract attention from Ocasio-Cortez and heavyweights in the labor movement, all of whom offered straight-faced responses. The New York Department of Labor’s official account retweeted another person’s criticism of Portnoy and said in its own comment, “It is illegal to take any unfavorable action – including termination – against employees for union-related activities under the National Labor Relations Act. New York is a proud union state. We say no way, no how to intimidation, threats and union busting.”
Representatives for the New York agency and the AFL-CIO could not be reached for comment. The phone number for Barstool Sports was busy.