Op-Ed | Corporate giants deploy subpoenas to squash advocacy, press


Are you a reporter who includes the voices of advocates in your coverage? Are you a non-profit advocacy organization, a lobbyist, or anyone else who seeks to influence their government in opposition to the wishes of giant corporations? If you are any of these things, you’re under attack, and if we lose this fight, you may lose First Amendment protections and the power of your voice in government.  

Just four years ago, New York State enacted one of the strongest anti-SLAPP laws in the nation, preventing the use of court system to burden opponents with legal defense costs in order to discourage those who may wish to speak out. But there’s no such protection under Federal law, and right now, corporate giants DoorDash, Grubhub, and Ubder are deploying subpoenas through the loophole in a last-ditch effort to destroy the collective voice of restaurants in New York as they seek to undo the City law that put a cap on the fees these third-party delivery companies can charge restaurants for certain services.  

The law was put in place following a New York City Council hearing called as the media broke stories about the third-party delivery marketplace’s abusive relationship with restaurants. These stories described instances where restaurants were charged thousands of dollars in fraudulent fees for “customer orders” that were never placed, created secondary websites for restaurants without their knowledge, and listed restaurants on their apps without consent. Additional serious concerns were raised about how algorithms were manipulated by the delivery companies to determine the promotion and searchability of restaurants. 

The fee cap on these providers, along with other provisions, were the subject of aggressive and well-funded lobbying campaigns by DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber, the companies that dominate the third-party delivery space. But the New York City Hospitality Alliance, representing thousands of restaurants across the five boroughs, along with other advocates, worked with the media and our partners in City Hall to combat this aggressive campaign and ensure our restaurants were protected.  

We’re not part of the lawsuit they’ve filed in federal court to overturn the fee cap, but that hasn’t stopped them from issuing us subpoenas that seek our communications with reporters, our members, and even privileged discussions with our lawyer. They know we’re a small non-profit organization with limited resources and time. They know that fighting these subpoenas could destroy our ability to advocate. They know that if they win, they’ll have a precedent they, and other corporations, can follow to silence New Yorkers. Don’t like someone’s advocacy? File a federal lawsuit and exploit the anti-SLAPP loophole.  

Yes, we need our representatives in Congress to take action and close the loophole, but that won’t help the New York City Hospitality Alliance, and countless other organizations likes us, today. At this moment, we need our partners and our friends to rise up and call out this attack for what it is: an attempt at taking our First Amendment rights. We can’t let these powerful corporations force groups to release their emails with reporters and their lawyers, and we can’t let them use the court to force us into bankruptcy in order to defend ourselves.  

DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber should take heed: The New York City restaurant industry lost a lot throughout Covid-19, but collectively we persevered, and as big and powerful as you are, you are no pandemic. You will not intimidate us to capitulate with your subpoenas. While there is a cap on your fees, there is no cap on the resilience of the New York City restaurant industry. Consider that a tip.  

Andrew Rigie is the Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.