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Bernie Sanders vs. Howard Schultz: Longtime Starbucks CEO Grilled on Company’s Union-Busting Tactics

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Just weeks after the National Labor Relations Board accused Starbucks of engaging in “egregious and widespread misconduct” to prevent employees from unionizing, the company’s longtime CEO Howard Schultz appeared before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday to answer questions. Committee Chair Bernie Sanders of Vermont grilled Schultz on the company’s union-busting record and demanded an end to retaliation against workers. Since 2021, nearly 300 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize, but the company has responded by firing many organizers and shuttering unionized stores, among other tactics. Schultz is worth over $3 billion and has led Starbucks for much of its history, most recently as interim CEO for the last year as a permanent replacement was found. He stepped down on March 20. We feature excerpts from the hearing.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders faced off with the longtime CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, Wednesday at a Senate hearing focused on the company’s union-busting record. Schultz, who’s worth over $3 billion, stepped down as Starbucks CEO March 20th. His resignation came just weeks after a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled Starbucks had engaged in, quote, “egregious and widespread misconduct,” unquote, in its effort to prevent workers from unionizing. The judge also ordered Starbucks to reinstate illegally fired workers, reopen closed stores and halt other union-busting tactics. Since 2021, nearly 300 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize.

Later in the show, we’ll be joined by a Starbucks worker who was fired after leading a unionization drive at a Starbucks store in Augusta, Georgia. But first we turn to excerpts from Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate HELP Committee. HELP stands for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Before questioning Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Bernie Sanders opened the hearing by outlining Starbucks’ labor record.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Over the past 18 months, Starbucks has waged the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country. That union-busting campaign has been led by Howard Schultz, the multibillionaire founder and director of Starbucks, who is with us this morning only under the threat of subpoena.

Let us be clear about the nature of Starbucks’ vicious anti-union efforts. The National Labor Relations Board, NLRB, has filed over 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law. There have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against the company. And judges have found that Starbucks broke the law 130 times across six states since workers began organizing in the fall of 2021. These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers for “the crime” of exercising their right to form a union and to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Since the first Starbucks union was certified more than 450 days ago in Buffalo, workers at more than 360 stores across 40 states have held union elections. Eighty-three percent of these elections have resulted in a union victory, and today nearly 300 Starbucks coffee shops, employing more than 7,000 workers, have a union — despite Starbucks’ aggressive anti-union efforts. But with nearly 300 shops voting to form a union, Starbucks has refused to sign a single first contract with the union. Not a single one. …

Mr. Schultz, thank you very much. My time is limited, as is the time of all of our members here, so I’m going to be asking you to respond to each question as briefly as you can, hopefully with a yes or a no. Do you understand that in America workers have a fundamental right to join a union and collectively bargain to improve wages, benefits and working conditions? Do you understand that?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: I understand, and we respect the right of every partner who wears a green apron, whether they choose to join a union or not.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Are you aware that NLRB judges have ruled that Starbucks violated federal labor law over 100 times during the past 18 months, far more than any other corporation in America?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: Sir, Starbucks Coffee Company unequivocally — and let me set the tone for this very early on — has not broken the law.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: OK. Are you aware that on March 1st, 2023, an administrative law judge found Starbucks guilty of, quote, “egregious and widespread misconduct,” end-quote, widespread coercive behavior, and showed, quote, “a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights,” end-quote, in a union-organizing campaign that started in Buffalo, New York, in 2021? Are you aware of that?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: I am aware that those are allegations, and Congress has created a process that we are following, and we’re confident that those allegations will be proven false.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: All right. Mr. Schultz, before answering the following questions, let me remind you that federal law, at 18 U.S. Code Section 1001, prohibits knowingly and willfully making any fraudulent statement.

HOWARD SCHULTZ: I understand that.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Were you ever informed of or involved in a decision to fire a worker who was part of a union-organizing drive?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Were you ever informed of or involved in a decision to discipline a worker in any way who was part of a union-organizing drive?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Have you ever threatened, coerced or intimidated a worker for supporting a union?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: I’ve had conversations that could have been interpreted in a different way than I intended. That’s up to the person who received the information that I spoke to him about.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Were you informed of or involved in the decision to withhold benefits from Starbucks workers in unionized stores, including higher pay and faster sick time accrual?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: My understanding, when we created the benefits in May, one month after I returned as CEO — my understanding was, under the law, we did not have the unilateral right to provide those benefits to employees who were interested in joining a union. …

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Under your leadership, Starbucks has repeatedly refused to bargain with any of the 7,000 workers in nearly 300 stores where workers have voted to represent themselves through a union. The first group of workers to win their election have been waiting more than 460 days to reach a first contract. Mr. Schultz, will you commit right now that within 14 days of this hearing, Starbucks will exchange proposals with the union, something it has refused to do for more than 450 days, so that meaningful progress can be made to bargain a first contract in good faith? Will you make that commitment?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: Because the arrangement that was made by the union and the NLRB in Buffalo to negotiate one single store at a time, we have met over 85 times for a single store. We’ve tried to arrange over 350 separate meetings. We’ve said publicly, and I say it here again, that we believe that face-to-face negotiations is the way to proceed. And the reason I want to make that point is that there have been safety issues in which Starbucks managers have been outed on social media. There are privacy issues. We don’t want to do it on Zoom. We are prepared to meet face to face on a single-store issue.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Will you make a promise to this committee that you will exchange proposals with the union so that we can begin to make meaningful progress?

HOWARD SCHULTZ: On a single-store basis, we will continue to negotiate in good faith. That’s what we’ll do.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders during a hearing Wednesday at the Senate HELP Committee. Again, that ”HELP” stands for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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Ex-Starbucks Worker Jaysin Saxton Describes Being Fired After He Helped Organize Union

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