Sen. Bernie Sanders Says He's Going To Subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

The senator wants the Starbucks co-founder under oath for questioning about the company's anti-union campaign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Wednesday that he plans to hold a vote among his colleagues to determine whether Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz should be subpoenaed to testify before a Senate committee.

The Vermont independent has been hammering the Starbucks co-founder over the company’s anti-union campaign against Workers United, a union that has organized nearly 300 of the chain’s stores. Now, Sanders says Schultz should be compelled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Sanders chairs.

“Unfortunately, Howard Schultz has given us no choice, but to subpoena him,” Sanders said on Twitter. “A multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable.”

Sanders’ office said in a press release that the committee will hold the vote next Wednesday. Democrats hold a slim majority in the committee and the Senate at large.

Sanders said the subpoena would be related to Starbucks’ “lack of compliance with federal labor law.” He also said he hoped to “authorize a committee investigation into major corporations’ labor law violations.”

Workers United has encountered aggressive pushback from the coffee chain as the union has tried to organize stores from coast to coast since 2021. The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has issued dozens of complaints against the Seattle-based company, alleging it illegally fired workers, closed stores, and threatened to withhold raises and benefits so that employees wouldn’t unionize.

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants Howard Schultz (above) to testify before his committee.
Sen. Bernie Sanders wants Howard Schultz (above) to testify before his committee.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sanders sent a letter to Starbucks last month requesting that Schultz testify before his committee, but the company responded with a letter saying the CEO did not intend to do so. They recommended that a different executive, A.J. Jones II, appear in his place. Schultz plans to step down from his role atop the company in March.

“Given the timing of the transition, his relinquishment of any operating role in the company going forward and what we understand to be the subject of the hearing, we believe another senior leader with ongoing responsibilities is best suited to address these matters,” Starbucks general counsel Zabrina Jenkins wrote to Sanders.

Starbucks called Sanders’ announcement of the upcoming committee vote “disappointing” in a statement Wednesday, and reiterated its offer to send Jones to Capitol Hill.

“This is a disappointing development, but we will continue our dialogue with Chairman Sanders’ staff and are optimistic that we’ll come to an appropriate resolution. Our response to the Chairman’s initial request still stands.”

Schultz is the face of Starbucks and has been deeply involved in the campaign against the union, making direct appeals to workers. The labor board’s general counsel has accused Schultz himself of violating the law amid the campaign. In a sign of how contentious the campaign has been, the union’s lead organizer has called Schultz “the Al Capone of union-busters.”

After Starbucks rebuffed the senator’s request that Schultz appear before the committee, Sanders called the response “disappointing, but not surprising.”

“Apparently, it is easier for Mr. Schultz to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions, and to intimidate others who may be interested in joining a union than to answer questions from elected officials,” Sanders said.

This story has been updated with comment from Starbucks.

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