Starbucks informed the staff of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday that outgoing chief executive Howard Schultz does not intend to testify at the senator’s hearing on the coffee chain’s fight with its workers’ union.
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, had sent a letter to the coffee chain on Feb. 7 asking that Schultz appear on Capitol Hill next month. But in a response Tuesday night, Starbucks offered instead to send another executive, A.J. Jones II, a vice president and top spokesperson.
Schultz has been serving as interim CEO and plans to step down in April.
“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.
Schultz is a co-founder of the famous coffee chain and its most recognizable face. He has been deeply involved in the company’s battle with Starbucks Workers United, the labor campaign that has unionized nearly 300 stores since late 2021.
“Schultz has been personally named in some of the complaints filed by the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel accusing the company of illegal suppressing the organizing effort.”
Schultz has been personally named in some of the complaints filed by the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel accusing the company of illegal suppressing the organizing effort. The campaign’s lead organizer has taken to calling Schultz “the Al Capone of union-busting.”
Sanders, a close ally of organized labor, has publicly hammered Schultz over the company’s aggressive response to the campaign. He had informed the company he wanted Schultz to answer questions related to “decisions with respect to complying with our nation’s labor laws and negotiating a first contract with union workers at Starbucks.”
The general counsel has issued 75 complaints against Starbucks alleging management illegally fired union supporters, shut down stores that were organizing, and threatened to withhold pay hikes and other benefits to prevent workers from unionizing. Most of those cases are now being litigated.
Last week, Sanders told The Associated Press that he would consider using the committee’s subpoena power if Schultz declined his invitation.
The senator said Wednesday that Schultz declining his invitation was “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.
He added, “I intend to hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee.”
In its letter to Sanders, Starbucks called itself “a model employer and the categorical leader across industries for its comprehensive compensation.” It said Jones was especially qualified to testify before the committee having previously worked in Congress and served as policy director for Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the former Democratic whip.
This story has been updated with a response from Sanders.