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Barstool Sports Settles With Labor Board Over Anti-Union Tweets

Jan. 21, 2020, 9:39 PM

Four months after Barstool Sports co-founder David Portnoy drew criticism for posting anti-union tweets, the company reached an informal settlement with the National Labor Relations Board that calls for the deletion of the tweets and removal of other anti-union material created by the company.

The settlement comes as the federal labor board has increasingly scrutinized when statements by company executives on social media violate labor laws. Most recently, an administrative law judge ruled in September that Tesla CEO Elon Musk broke the law with a tweet that suggested that employees who chose to join a union would give up company-paid stock options.

The Barstool Sports controversy began after Portnoy re-posted a 2015 article where he said he would “smash” any employee union effort. When a union supporter then offered to chat about organizing with employees, Portnoy threatened that he would fire any employee who reached out to him about organizing.

“If you work for @barstoolsports and DM this man I will fire you on the spot,” Portnoy tweeted Aug. 13.

The comment led to allegations that the sports blogger was breaking federal labor laws by threatening workers. The founder reiterated his position in subsequent tweets, posting a shirt for sale with his face and the words “Union Buster.” He also challenged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to a debate after the congresswoman said Portnoy was likely breaking the law with his threat.

Barstool Sports, Inc.—owned by investment firm the Chernin Group—didn’t admit fault for violating the National Labor Relations Act as part of the settlement, but it will notify employees of their right to unionize by email and physical postings. Notices of federal labor rights will be displayed for at least 60 days in Barstool Sports’ New York headquarters and its satellite offices in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Watertown, Mass.

“The resolution of these charges reflects that there will be zero tolerance for anti-union efforts to threaten, restrain or coerce workers in the editorial industry,” Industrial Workers of the World attorney Benjamin N. Dictor said by email Tuesday. The IWW’s Freelance Journalists Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB over the comments. The agency accepts charges even if the filer isn’t an employee of the organization alleged to be violating federal labor laws.

The Chernin Group and the attorney representing Barstool Sports didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The settlement was reached Dec. 2 and approved by an NLRB regional director Dec. 18, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by Bloomberg Law through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Fake Union Campaign

The settlement posting also provided confirmation that Barstool Sports was behind a Twitter account calling itself the Barstool Sports Union that purported to be “the labor movement inside Barstool Sports.”

“Would prefer to stay anonymous right now in beginning stages of unionization. DM. Serious inquiries only,” the account tweeted out Aug. 13.

The Twitter account was really a ploy to uncover whether any employees supported efforts to unionize, according to union attorney David A. Rosenfeld, who also filed an unfair labor practice charge against Barstool Sports with the federal labor board.

The company agreed to remove the @BSSUNION Twitter account as part of the settlement and it has since been deleted.

A video posted by the company that mocked Ocasio-Cortez and said the whole controversy was “really just narcissism to try to get a retweet from the president” was also deleted from YouTube and the company’s website, but remains on Facebook as of the publication of this story.

Portnoy also deleted some of his Aug. 13 original tweets, including the post referencing firing employees.

Under the terms of the settlement, each party must notify the NLRB regional director in writing the steps taken to comply with the agreement. Notice is required five days after the settlement is approved and 60 days after approval.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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