Internet Heavyweights Battle Over Blogger Unions

Barstool founder to AOC: Welcome to thunder dome. Debate me

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez / Getty Images
August 13, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., NY) is going after one of the internet's most popular sports websites.

The insurgent socialist Democrat came to the aid of workers at Barstool Sports, lending solidarity to a newsroom known for its humor and Conor McGregor trutherism. The spat began when Barstool Sports president David Portnoy took issue with a union activist openly courting his employees.

Rafi Letzter, a staff writer for Live Science and union activist with the Writers Guild East, invited Stoolies, as the site's fans and writers are called, to contact him via Twitter.

"If you work for Barstool and want to have a private chat about the unionization process, how little power your boss has to stop you, and how you can leverage that power to make your life better: my DMs are open," Letzter said.

Portnoy responded rapidly.

"If you work for @barstoolsports and DM this man I will fire you on the spot," Portnoy said.

Portnoy's complaint drew the interest of the freshman Democrat. Ocasio-Cortez sent out a warning to the company and a reminder of National Labor Relations Act protections offered to workers in the process of organizing.

"If you're a boss tweeting firing threats to employees trying to unionize, you are likely breaking the law &can be sued. In you words, 'on the spot.' ALL workers in the US have the protected freedom to organize for better conditions," she said in a tweet (emphasis and typos in the original).

Portnoy welcomed her insight into his website's labor practices by challenging her to a debate.

"Hey @AOC welcome to thunder dome. Debate me," he said. The congresswoman did not respond to his invitation.

Organized labor was also quick to criticize Barstool. AFL-CIO branded Portnoy a "bad boss" in a tweet.

"Bad Boss Example #1. The NLRA prohibits bosses from engaging in unfair labor practices including 'interfering with the formation or administration of any labor organization,'" the nation's largest union said.

Despite the insinuation that Portnoy's tweet was an attempt to intimidate workers, El Presidente, as he is called, has welcomed a union into his workplace. On Monday evening he tweeted out a 2015 piece he published after doomed revenge pornography publisher Gawker voted to unionize.

"I hope and I pray that Barstool employees try to unionize. I can’t tell you how much I want them to unionize," the piece said. "Just so I can smash their little union to smithereens. Nothing would please me more than to break it into a million little pieces."

Washington Free Beacon employees have been approached several times about the possibility of unionizing. However, the proposal has failed to take due to aggressive countermeasures and intimidation tactics by Free Beacon senior management.

Free Beacon co-founder and president Aaron Harison also weighed in on the Barstool controversy.

"If a Free Beacon employee were to speak to anybody about unionizing, I would not only fire them, but I'd have them f—king..." he paused, "let's just leave it at that for now," he said.