Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks Corporation, testifies about the company’s labor and union practices during a Senate Committee hearing on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 29, 2023.
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former Starbucks On Wednesday, Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz faced a set of tough questions from the senator. Bernie Sanders on the alleged breach of the coffee chain’s union.
Schultz resigned on March 20, handing the reins over to Laxman Narasimhan, who had spent the previous six months getting to know the company. However, Schultz still sits on Starbucks’ board and is its fifth-largest shareholder, with a 1.9% stake in the company that has transformed it into a global powerhouse.
Sanders, a pro-union independent representing Vermont, has been pressing Starbucks for more than a year to recognize the union and negotiate contracts with unionized coffee shops. He chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which administered the committee.
During the hearing Wednesday, Sanders said the coffee chain had engaged in “the most aggressive and illegal campaign of union-busting in the recent history of our country.” He also accused the company of dragging its feet on collective bargaining agreements, and bet that workers would give up and leave the coffee chain.
Nearly 300 Starbucks coffeehouses have voted to join the Starbucks labor union, according to data from the National Labor Relations Council. In total, the union has filed more than 500 complaints of unfair labor practices related to Starbucks with the Federal Labor Board. The judges found that the company broke the federal labor law 130 times. (Starbucks has filed nearly 100 complaints against the union.)
No union stores have yet agreed to a contract with Starbucks. An NLRB attorney reportedly said Tuesday that the company’s refusal to bargain Zoom was illegal.
In response, Schultz defended Starbucks’ approach to its negotiations, asserting that a direct relationship with workers is best for the company. He also denied several times that the company violated federal labor law, and said his focus during his tenure as interim CEO was 99% on operations, not union fighting.
Schultz’s third term as CEO of Starbucks lasted only two weeks of the year, but in that time he moved aggressively to stem the regulatory wave that began under his predecessor, Kevin Johnson. Schultz announced higher wages, better benefits, and better perks for non-union positions as well as a reinvention plan that included automating tasks baristas found tedious.
Senator head. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. , prepares to give order of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on No Corporation Above Law: The Need to End Unlawful Union Violation at Starbucks in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Bill Clark | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Sometimes, the interrogation was personal. Sanders has referred to Schultz several times as a billionaire, which Schultz has tried to disprove by highlighting his childhood growing up in a government housing project and downplaying his personal wealth. senator. Ed Markey of Massachusetts returned to the story Schultz told during his prepared testimony about his father, who lost his job after being injured, saying the union could have stopped his firing.
“These workers are just like your father,” Marky told Schultz, “and they have no rights.”
Schultz’s answers to other senators were often long, prompting Sanders to cut him off to move on to the next speaker, escalating tensions within the chamber.
Even Starbucks is under fire from Democrats. The coffee shop chain has found allies on the right. Last week, House Republicans issued a subpoena to the NLRB for documents and allegations of misconduct by agency officials related to the Starbucks union election in Kansas.
senator. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, called Wednesday’s hearing “a smear campaign against a company and an individual.” He accused the NLRB of breaking laws to advance a political agenda, but also said it was not there to defend Starbucks. Schultz declined to answer Cassidy’s question about whether he believed the NLRB’s actions were politically motivated.
Schultz received more vocal support from other Republican senators, including Mitt Romney of Utah, who acknowledged the irony of a coffee-drinking Mormon who backs the former Democratic presidential nominee.
In Sanders’ prepared comments, he said Schultz only appeared because of the threat of a subpoena.
In early March, Schultz declined an invitation from the committee to testify about the company’s handling of the union pay. After Sanders called for a vote to subpoena Schultz, the former CEO agreed to appear before the committee.
In addition to lawmakers and regulators, Starbucks has also faced pressure from investors over its handling of the union push. At the company’s annual meeting on Thursday, shareholders voted in favor of a non-binding motion requesting a third-party investigation into whether the company breached its commitment to workers’ rights. Starbucks has not participated in the official vote tally yet.
– CNBC’s Kate Rogers contributed to this report.