On August 13, 2019, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy’s antagonistic, bosses-first mentality came to a head when journalist Rafi Letzler encouraged Barstool employees to reach out to him about the unionization process. Portnoy threatened to fire anyone who works for Barstool “on the spot” if they messaged Letzler. Portnoy continued in this vein, attempting to troll for hate-clicks while very genuinely standing in opposition to his workers’ rights. Seeking to drive home the point, a fake union Twitter account, “@BSSUNION,” was created and Barstool Sports ran an anti-unionization video titled “Professor Nate Explains Unions” the next day.
The Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union immediately responded to Portnoy’s man-child antics by filing a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. While Portnoy attempted to play his behavior off as snark, journalists, media workers, and the world saw Portnoy’s tweets as a clear indicator that Barstool Sports is a dangerous place for any worker seeking to organize.
While Portnoy has attempted to use the “it’s just a joke” defense—and will likely continue to do so in lieu of learning how to actually be funny—his behavior indicates a clear effort to establish an anti-union atmosphere at Barstool Sports at a time when media workers are increasingly finding unionization to be their only source of defense against bosses like Portnoy: bosses who are only interested in the false sense of superiority and power that comes from being massive dicks.
In an agreement announced on January 21, 2020, Barstool Sports formally settled the complaint filed by the IWW FJU against Portnoy’s anti-union tactics. Barstool Sports agreed to remove Portnoy’s hostile tweets, delete the fake union Twitter account, and remove the anti-union video the site published.
It is the hope of the IWW FJU that workers see the action taken by this union and know that protections against bosses like Portnoy exist. It is additionally our hope that employers and managers like Portnoy realize and learn to respect the unmitigated power of collective action. Media workers everywhere are always welcome to reach out to the IWW FJU for information about organizing.
The Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union