Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Tuesday that outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has agreed to appear before a Senate committee to address allegations of union-busting that workers and regulators have leveled against the coffee chain.
Sanders had threatened to subpoena Schultz to force him to take questions from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Sanders had teed up a vote on Wednesday for the committee to determine whether Schultz should be compelled to testify.
Starbucks confirmed Tuesday that Schultz would appear before the committee, sharing a letter the company had sent to Capitol Hill saying the company had reached an agreement with Sanders “after constructive discussions with Committee staff.” Schultz is serving as CEO in an interim capacity and intends to step down this month.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Committee to foster productive dialogue,” Starbucks’ general counsel, Zabrina Jenkins, wrote in the letter. “As part of those efforts, we will endeavor to provide a deeper understanding of our culture and priorities.”
Starbucks had originally offered to send a different executive, former Capitol Hill staffer A.J. Jones II, to testify in Schultz’s place, and then proposed augmenting Jones’ testimony with that of two additional executives.
“The union alleges that Starbucks has fired union activists, closed stores and made promises to workers all in an effort to stop the organizing campaign from spreading.”
But Sanders appeared intent on having Schultz, the public face and co-founder of the company, take questions from lawmakers. Sanders called the celebrity CEO “the driving force of labor policy at Starbucks.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Sanders noted that the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has filed roughly 80 complaints against the company alleging violations of labor law.
“In America, workers have the constitutional right to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining to improve their wages and working conditions,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately Starbucks, under Mr. Schultz’s leadership, has done everything possible to prevent that from happening.”
He added: “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.”
Since late 2021, the union Workers United has organized nearly 300 of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 corporate-owned U.S. stores, pulling off one of the most notable organizing feats in decades.
The union alleges that the company has fired union activists, closed stores and made promises to workers all in an effort to stop the organizing campaign from spreading. The labor board’s general counsel has found merit in many of those claims, and brought formal complaints against the company that are now being litigated.
Just last week, an administrative law judge at the agency ruled that Starbucks had committed “egregious and widespread misconduct,” including illegal firings.