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

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

That’s the lesson Ralph learned this week when – after grocery workers all over Southern California voted for sanction a strike – A digital activist threw a TikTok-shaped wrench into the network’s strike prevention efforts by hiring temporary “lousy” workers.

“Let’s say you always wanted to work at Ralphs,” said activist Sean Wiggs, posting under the pseudonym Sean Black in viral video he uploaded to TikTok on Tuesday. “Let’s say you always had a dream to submit one or more apps to this particular Ralphs store.”

Wiggs then directed viewers to a computer script that he says will flood Ralphs’ recruitment portal with fake job search apps in just a few clicks. The script has contributed to more than 25,000 such performances, he told The Times.

“So you can fulfill your dream of always working for Ralphs and also punishing a company that is destroying unions,” Wiggs defiantly remarked in a video that has been viewed more than 35,000 times so far and first reported on VICE. “The best of both worlds!”

The job page in question no longer appears to be active; QR code directing applicants are led there to a gray page and the message: “This vacancy cannot be viewed at the moment. It has either been removed or is no longer available.” Wiggs said in his TikTok video that the site lacks basic protections against automated spam attacks, such as email verification or bot protection.

“It is disappointing that these unsuccessful attempts were aimed at violating [a community’s] access to fresh food and essentials,” said John Votava, spokesperson for Ralphs, in an emailed statement. “To be clear, we are focused on getting to [an] Agreement with [the United Food and Commercial Workers union] which would eliminate the need for temporary workers.”

Votava did not say why the site closed or if it will be restored in the future, but said the company has “successfully hired temporary workers for all locations.”

Tens of thousands of union members have voted to sanction a strike if their wage demands are not met during upcoming contract negotiations. In addition to Ralphs, a subsidiary of Kroger, other chains could also be on strike, including Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions.

“Technology provides another way for the community to show solidarity with us and we appreciate that support,” said Ashley Manning, cashier at San Pedro Ralphs and a member of the employee negotiation committee, in a statement emailed to The Times by one of the union’s representatives. . “We hope that Ralph will be signaled to stop his anti-union behavior and get a fair contract.”

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

Summer 2020 TikTokers used the app to coordinate ticket bookings a lot of to a rally planned by then-President Trump, in the hope that the venue would remain largely empty when they did not show up to take their seats. Turnout at the event was lower than expected, although it is difficult to trace this result to any individual activist efforts.

Some trolls too use bot scripts to have their enemies suspended or banned from TikTok by flooding the platform’s complaints system with content infringement reports.

Wiggs is a veteran of such computer code activity; his tool against Ralph is one of several such scenarios he developed.

He said he developed similar programs to support organized labor actions at Kellogg, where workers gone floor of some of the cereal company’s factories at the end of 2021 and Starbucks, where workers went on strike this year in cities such as Kansas City as well as Denver among a wide chain union push. He also programmed a script to flood the website with false reports about violations of Texas’ new anti-abortion law; the law promises rewards to those who report others for getting or helping abortions.

This kind of “digital labor activity” is on the rise and will only gain popularity, Wiggs added. “This allows people like me, who are not in the area of ​​the strike and are not directly involved in it, to support us wherever we are. This is the power that the internet gives to people who want to make a difference.”

While Ralph’s original job listing is currently unavailable, Wiggs’ work continues. Using QR codes he found on Reddit the famous “anti-working” forumit added two more store-specific Ralphs app portals to its codebase, he told The Times.

As of Wednesday afternoon, one of the two portals was down. For now, the other remains.