New front opens in Southern California grocery store labor dispute: TikTok

Labor disputes are as old as capitalism itself, but the battlefields on which they are fought are continually evolving.

It’s a lesson Ralphs learned this week when – after Southern California grocers voted to authorize a strike — a digital activist has thrown a TikTok-shaped wrench in the chain’s efforts to pre-empt walkouts by hiring temporary scabs.

“Let’s say you’ve always wanted to work at Ralphs,” said activist Sean Wiggs, posted under the pseudonym Sean Black, in a viral video he uploaded to TikTok on Tuesday. “Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of submitting one or more applications to this specific Ralphs store.”

Wiggs then directed viewers to a computer script he claimed would, in just a few clicks, flood a Ralphs job portal with bogus job applications. The script has facilitated more than 25,000 such submissions, he told The Times.

“This way you can fulfill your dream of still working at Ralphs while punishing a union busting company,” Wiggs cheekily remarked in the video, which has now been viewed more than 35,000 times and has been reported for the first time by VICE. “The best of both worlds!”

The job page in question no longer appears to be active; a QR code direction candidates there leads to a gray page and the message: “This offer cannot be viewed at the moment. It has been deleted or is no longer available. Wiggs said in his TikTok video that the site lacked basic protections against automated spam attacks such as email verification or anti-bot Captchas.

“It is disappointing that these failed attempts were intended to disrupt [a community’s] access to fresh food and essentials,” John Votava, a representative for Ralphs, said in an emailed statement. “To be clear, we are focusing on getting to [an] agreement with [the United Food and Commercial Workers union] this would eliminate the need for temporary workers.

Votava did not say why the site had stopped or if it would be back in operation at any time in the future, but said the company had “successfully hired temporary workers for all sites”.

Tens of thousands of union members have voted to authorize a strike if their wage demands are not met in the impending contract negotiations. Alongside Kroger subsidiary Ralphs, other chains likely to be on strike include Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions.

“Technology provides another way for the community to stand in solidarity with us and we appreciate the support,” said Ashley Manning, cashier at a San Pedro Ralphs store and member of the employee bargaining committee, in a statement sent to the Times by a union spokesperson. “We hope Ralphs gets the message to end their union busting behavior and negotiate a fair contract.”

This is not the first time that social media has been used as a tool for union activism. Warnings about which picket lines to avoid spread quickly on Twitter, and digital communication tools can prove invaluable for organizing workplaces, especially those that don’t exist in a single centralized office. Social media has also helped gig economy workers on platforms such as DoorDash organize strikes.

In the summer of 2020, TikTokers used the app for coordinate ticket reservations en masse for a rally that then-President Donald Trump was planning, hoping the hall would remain nearly empty when they didn’t show up to claim their seats. The event had a lower turnout than expected, although it is difficult to attribute this result to any singular activism effort.

Some trolls too use bot scripts to get their haters suspended or banned from TikTok by flooding the platform’s complaint system with content violation reports.

Wiggs is a veteran of this type of computer code activism; his anti-Ralphs tool is one of many such scripts he has developed.

He said he had coded similar programs to support organized labor actions at Kellogg, where workers walked off the ground at some of the company’s grain plants at the end of 2021, and Starbucks, where workers walked off. went on strike this year in cities like Kansas City and Denver amid a chain-wide union spurt. He also coded a script to flood a website with false reports of violations of Texas’ new anti-abortion law; the law promises bounties to those who report others for obtaining or facilitating abortions.

This type of “digital labor activism” is on the rise and will only grow in popularity, Wiggs added. “It allows people like me who are not in the area of ​​the strike, and who are not directly involved in it, to support us wherever we are. This is the power that the Internet offers to people who want to make a difference.

Even though Ralphs original job listing is now offline, Wiggs’ work continues. Using QR codes he found on Reddit famous “anti-work” forumit has added two more store-specific Ralphs app portals to its codebase, he told The Times.

As of press time, one of these two portals appeared to be down. For now, the other remains standing.

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