Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called out the founder of media company Barstool Sports on Tuesday after he threatened to fire “on the spot” any employee who reached out to a writer offering to chat about unionization.
“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 at Dave Portnoy, whose sports and culture site has a reputation for crass content.
The social media back-and-forth — just the latest of many controversies for Portnoy — began after the Barstool founder reminded his Twitter followers Monday of his distaste for unions. Noting reports that employees at sports and pop culture site the Ringer are considering unionizing, he shared a post from 2015 in which he wrote that he could not wait for Barstool staff to unionize so he could “smash their little union to smithereens."
“No more free water! No more vacation days! I’m gonna dump rats into the walls! You haven’t seen anything yet!” he wrote at the time.
Portnoy’s Monday tweet got a response from Rafi Letzter, a staff writer for the news site Live Science — where employees are represented by the Writers Guild of America East.
“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 tweeted.
That didn’t sit well with Portnoy, who said he would fire anyone who messaged Letzter. He later tweeted that he would fire any Barstool employee who hired a lawyer offering to help employees looking to unionize. Portnoy was rebuked by Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent advocate for workers’ rights who warned in another tweet about the risk of losing labor protections by not teaching the history of the movement that achieved them.
The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, had weighed in earlier to point out that Portnoy’s threats violated the National Labor Relations Act, a 1935 law that lays out worker’s rights and encourages collective bargaining.
“Doubling down on your NLRA violation, I see,” the group later tweeted in response to Portnoy.
The National Labor Relations Board says that violations of the NLRA include threatening to fire those who join a union and questioning staff about their activities in ways that “tend to interfere with, restrain or coerce” them as they exercise their rights to unionization.
The U.S. Department of Labor also weighed in, replying that employees who feel they are being targeted against the law “can call our toll-free hotline, 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365)."
Barstool and Portnoy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Portnoy responded Tuesday afternoon to Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism with a call for the representative to debate him.
By Tuesday evening, Donald Trump Jr. chimed in and asserted that Ocasio-Cortez had made a big mistake by “picking a fight” with Barstool on Twitter. Portnoy quoted Trump Jr’s tweet, adding, “When will Alexandria O’CRAZIO Cortez @Aoc learn not to tangle with our countries Presidents? @realDonaldTrump."
Barstool has long drawn backlash for its embrace of the crude and uncensored, as The Post’s Ben Strauss reported in February:
Barstool always has trafficked in an aggressive fratiness with none of Deadspin’s hipster smugness. And as Barstool has continued to insist that sports should remain free of all political correctness — one of its slogans is “Saturdays are for the Boys” — the company has grown markedly, netting a $25 million investment from media holding company The Chernin Group.
The Washington Post
Portnoy has a history of stirring up controversy. Last year he refused to apologize after saying a 20-year-old female employee would be too ugly for camera in five years. Others at the company Portnoy founded have come under fire for their statements, too: Barstool Sports fired a writer earlier this year after he wrote an article joking about a missing college student later found dead.
Ben Strauss contributed to this report.