Democrats Push Ex-Boss About Starbucks Union Fight

Howard Schultz denies firing organizers but says conversations could have been misinterpreted
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2023 5:30 PM CDT
Former Starbucks Boss Denies Firing Union Organizers
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responds to another senator's remarks Wednesday on Capitol Hill.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

"Over the past 18 months, Starbucks has waged the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country," Sen. Bernie Sanders told a committee witness on Wednesday. That's how the National Labor Relations Board sees it, lodging more unfair labor practice charges against the company than against any other: more than 80 in the past 18 months. The witness was Howard Schultz, who until this month was Starbucks' chief executive. He denied to senators that the company has ever broken the law or that he'd been part of the decisions to fire union organizers or shut stores whose employees had voted to form a union, the Hill reports.

Schultz's protestations drew laughter from spectators, per NPR. "My involvement and engagement in union activities, despite this event today, has been de minimis," Schultz testified. Asked whether he'd tried to intimidate employees who were thinking about joining a union, the former CEO, who remains on the Starbucks board, said he'd "had conversations that could have been interpreted in a different way than I intended." Starbucks Workers United says more than 200 employees have been fired after participating in organizing activities. The company wants to treat workers with "dignity and respect," Schultz said, adding that its preference is to not have its workers, whom he said are called "partners," in a union. In one case, an administrative law judge said Starbucks had committed "egregious and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees."

Republican senators largely praised Schultz, but Democratic senators sounded unconvinced. At one point, Schultz objected to being labeled a billionaire. "Yes I have billions of dollars. I earned it," adding, "And I've shared it constantly with people of Starbucks." Other witnesses said they were punished by Starbucks for union involvement. Jaysin Saxton of Georgia said he lost his job after leading a demonstration. "I was fired for organizing, like so many union leaders across the country," he testified. Maggie Cartera, a barista in Tennessee, said the company cut the hours of workers who signed up for the union; employees lose health coverage if they work too few hours. Schultz assured Sanders that Starbucks would bargain in good faith in in-person meetings but not on Zoom. (More Starbucks stories.)

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