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Sanders Isn’t Afraid to Subpoena Starbucks CEO to Get Him to Appear in Congress

As chair of the Senate HELP Committee, Sanders has executives of all stripes in his crosshairs.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), now in charge of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, is pledging to go after executives for Starbucks, Big Pharma and railroads over their rampant greed — and he’s not afraid to use his subpoena power to do so.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of his top targets, Sanders is saying, for working for decades to fleece the American public at every turn.

“The industry has gotten away with murder,” Sanders told Rolling Stone in an interview published on Saturday. “We pay the highest prices in the world and the pharmaceutical industry year after year makes incredible profits, providing their CEOs outrageous compensation packages.”

He then brought up Moderna, which he called “a perfect example of corporate greed” for planning to quadruple the cost of its COVID-19 vaccine once the U.S. government runs out of its supply. “[I]f you are uninsured or underinsured, a low-income person, it’ll be $120 bucks to get that vaccine, which means you’re probably not going to get it. Maybe you’ll die, maybe get sick. And that to me is outrageous, unacceptable,” he said. “We intend to chat with Moderna about that.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, the senator added that pharmaceutical executives “should be nervous” of the spotlight that he is planning to shine on the industry’s greed.

Sanders also plans on highlighting the greed of the railroad industry. He says that he will be calling major railroad executives to appear before the HELP Committee if they don’t agree to guarantee seven paid sick days for their railroad workers. In a letter sent to railroad executives last week, Sanders pointed out that giving rail workers paid sick leave — up from 0 days of paid sick leave now — would only cost them about 1 percent of their profits.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens,” he said to Rolling Stone. “And if not, we’d love to see [the executives] here in committee.”

The issue of sick leave took center stage last year when union rail workers threatened to strike over what they said were blatantly inadequate contract offers from railroad companies. Sanders had pushed for a paid sick leave amendment to be added to the labor contract that Congress and Joe Biden forced upon workers, but it failed with 52 “yes” votes in the Senate, falling short of the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Elsewhere in the labor arena, Sanders has set his sights on an executive who has become notorious for union busting: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Last week, Sanders sent a letter to Schultz inviting him to appear before the HELP Committee in an upcoming hearing on Starbucks’s anti-union campaign.

Sanders told The Associated Press last week that, if Schultz doesn’t voluntarily appear before the committee, he’s open to forcing the CEO to appear through a subpoena.

“Workers have a constitutional right to organize. And even if you are a large, multinational corporation owned by a billionaire you don’t have the right to violate the law,” Sanders said. “And we intend to be asking Mr. Schultz some very hard questions.”

Schultz has provoked the ire of Starbucks workers as they’ve waged their historic union drive, successfully unionizing roughly 280 stores over the past two years and filing nearly 350 union petitions.

Workers say that Schultz, who was brought back in to head the company last year, was brought in specifically to bust the union. Federal officials have charged the company with over 1,200 labor violations over the course of Starbucks Workers United’s union campaign, making the company “one of the worst violators of federal labor law in history,” the union says.

Aside from targeting corporate executives, Sanders has laid out an ambitious agenda for the HELP Committee. In recent weeks, he has said he will be looking into raising the federal minimum wage to at least $17 an hour and has pledged to work on raising what he said are “pathetically low” wages for public school teachers.

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