Gen Z for Change Coders Create Fake Applications for Starbucks, Krogers Jobs

Sean Wiggs, 21, decided to learn to code after a high school teacher told him coding would be the future. He says he taught himself through a combination of free online resources like Harvard’s Computer Science Introduction course, learning the coding languages Python and Javascript, and mastering his first project, a simple “hello world” code.

But Wiggs found his projects expanding as the world contracted with the pandemic. As he took to TikTok to discuss social issues like systemic racism and police brutality, he made contact with a mutual, Victoria Hammett, who asked if he could help with a project. After Texas instituted a near-total ban on abortions, Texas Right to Life created a “whistleblower” site allowing Texans to report neighbors or relatives they suspected might be trying to access the procedure. So the plan was to create a bot to spam the site with fake tips.  At that point, Wiggs had been coding for only three years, but he gave it a shot — and the code worked, leaving the abortion site flooded with fake tips. With that success, Wiggs became a fixture in the TikTok world as the coder who could help Gen-Z troll their enemies.

“I never really thought I’d blow up on TikTok regardless, but I didn’t think it’d be [anything] coding-related that propelled me into the collective media consciousness for social issues,” Wiggs told Teen Vogue. “It’s a welcome surprise.”

In the last few months, Wiggs and his colleagues at Gen-Z for Change have focused on a new target: companies they consider to be undermining workers’ efforts to unionize, like Starbucks and Kroger. Pro-union workers at Starbucks have alleged that they’ve been punished and even fired for trying to organize, and the National Labor Review Board issued a formal complaint against the company accusing it of retaliating against an Arizona college student and others working to unionize a Starbucks location. So when the company opened applications for new employees, in what was seen by Gen Z for Change as a method for diluting the power of the union, Gen Z for Change sprang into action. In a campaign called Change Is Brewing led by Wiggs and fellow coder Sofia Ongele set up a website to “flood the job application pool.” The effort, according to the campaign site, was meant to “stand behind unionizing workers [and] ensure their future demands are met with transformation, not termination.” (Teen Vogue reached out to Starbucks for comment.)

Elise Joshi, operations director at Gen-Z for Change, said the Starbucks effort was successful. According to Joshi, more than 10,000 false Starbucks applications were sent to the locations where activists had been accused of union-busting, and according to Gen-Z for Change, some of the applications, like the one for Seattle store members, were taken down. (A Starbucks spokesperson told Newsweek that the company “has not taken down any job postings outside the normal course of our recruitment and hiring processes.” Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment from Teen Vogue.) The point, Joshi says, is to provide a little bit of relief to workers trying to unionize. “We can at least support them by taking down applications that are meant to replace them,” Joshi said. “And I hope it brings attention… for workers trying to mobilize and the labor movement as a whole.”

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