Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz will testify before a Senate committee about the company’s labor practices on March 29, a reversal of Schultz’s previous refusal.
“I’m happy to announce that Howard Schultz, the CEO and founder of Starbucks, has finally agreed to testify before the Senate HELP Committee,” Senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement Tuesday. Sanders chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which had planned to vote on whether to subpoena Schultz to testify on Wednesday.
The coffee company has been fighting a growing wave of unionization under Schultz’s leadership. Since Schultz rejoined the company as interim CEO in April of last year, and even before, he has said repeatedly that he doesn’t think Starbucks workers should unionize.
“I look forward to hearing from Mr. Schultz as to when he intends to end his illegal anti-union activities and begin signing fair first contracts with the unions,” Sanders said.
“I want Mr. Schultz to tell us that at long last he was going to stop his illegal activity, that he’s going to sit down with the union and negotiate a contract,” Sanders said during a press conference Tuesday, when asked by CNN’s Jessica Dean what he hopes to hear from Schultz later this month at his committee hearing. “That’s what I want, nothing more than that. To obey the law. I don’t think it’s asking too much.”
The first Starbucks store voted to unionize in December 2021, and despite the company’s aggressive attempts to stop the movement, more stores have joined since then. So far, the National Labor Relations Board has certified 285 votes to unionize, and 57 against.
There are about 9,300 US company-operated Starbucks stores in the United states, so the number of unionized stores may seem small. But it’s been an uphill battle for union organizers. The company has filed over 100 charges against the union, and the union has, in turn, filed hundreds of unfair labor charges against the company. In some cases, the NLRB has found in the union’s favor.
Last week, NLRB administrative law judge Michael Rosas said that Starbucks had displayed “egregious and widespread misconduct” in its dealings with employees involved in efforts to unionize Buffalo, New York, stores, including the first location to unionize. Starbucks repeatedly sent high-level executives into Buffalo-area stores in a “relentless” effort, the judge wrote, which “likely left a lasting impact as to the importance of voting against representation.”
As a result, Rosas said at the time, the company must reinstate and make whole a number of workers who were let go from locations in or around Buffalo. He also ordered the company to post a notice nationally informing workers that they have the right to join a union, including a lengthy list of what the company will refrain from doing, like surveilling workers or making other efforts to dissuade union activity.
Rosas also said that interim CEO Howard Schultz and another company leader must read the notice to employees, or be present at a meeting where the rights are read.
Starbucks said in a statement about Rosas’ order that it is “considering all options to obtain further legal review,” adding that “we believe the decision and the remedies ordered are inappropriate given the record in this matter.”
Schultz in February declined Sanders’ request to testify before the committee. Starbucks said at the time that it would send that its chief public affairs officer and executive vice president, AJ Jones II, instead, noting that Schultz will hand over CEO duties to incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan in April.
But “after constructive discussions with Committee staff, we have agreed that interim chief executive officer Howard Schultz will testify on behalf of Starbucks,” Starbucks’ chief counsel Zabrina Jenkins said in a letter sent to Sanders and the rest of the committee on Tuesday, which was provided to CNN by Starbucks.
“We look forward to Howard Schultz testifying in front of the HELP Senate committee,” Starbucks Workers United told CNN Tuesday. “As the architect of Starbucks’ unprecedented anti-union campaign, it is high time for him to be held accountable for his actions. Howard Schultz needs to learn that even billionaires aren’t above the law.”
— CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich and Jessica Dean contributed to this report.