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Sanders-Led Committee Releases Damning Report on Starbucks’s Anti-Union Activity

"Starbucks has engaged in the most significant union-busting campaign in modern history," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 22, 2023.

A Senate committee headed by Bernie Sanders of Vermont released a report late Sunday aimed at debunking Starbucks’ narrative that it supports workers’ rights and has not committed large-scale violations of U.S. labor law — claims that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will likely repeat when he testifies before the panel later this week.

Since late 2021, when Buffalo workers voted to form the company’s first union in the U.S. and set off a movement that quickly swept the country, “Starbucks has adopted an aggressively anti-union stance that is reflected in Schultz’s public statements, the company’s communications to workers, and its scorched-earth approach to blocking unionization activity,” the new report states.

“Though the coffee giant claims they are a ‘progressive’ company, there is mounting evidence that the $113 billion-dollar company’s anti-union efforts include a pattern of flagrant violations of federal labor law,” the report continues. “The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed over 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law and there have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against this company. These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers for ‘the crime’ of exercising their right to form a union and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s majority staff report was published ahead of Schultz’s planned testimony on Wednesday, an appearance that the billionaire — who has led Starbucks’ aggressive union-busting campaign — resisted for weeks before finally relenting earlier this month under threat of subpoena.

The report also comes days after Starbucks workers across the country went on strike and outlined their demands — including a starting hourly wage of $20, guaranteed hours for full-time workers, and 100% employer-covered healthcare — ahead of the company’s Thursday shareholder meeting, the first under new CEO Laxman Narasimhan.

While Starbucks says it “respects employees’ right to organize,” the HELP Committee report notes, the company in practice has “taken a firmly anti-union position” and has shown it is “willing to do whatever it takes to stop workers from organizing” by firing dozens of union leaders, surveilling and punishing pro-union employees, and promising better benefits for non-union locations.

“NLRB judges have found that Starbucks broke the law 130 times across six states since workers began organizing in fall 2021,” the HELP report states. “The NLRB is also currently taking Starbucks to trial in 70 additional cases.”

The report goes on to challenge Starbucks’ claim that it is bargaining in good faith with workers who have voted to join Workers United. None of the nearly 300 locations that have made the choice to unionize since December 2021 have secured a first contract.

“It has been over 450 days since the first Starbucks stores voted to form a union. Starbucks has not taken any meaningful steps to make progress toward actually negotiating a contract in that time period,” the report observes. “On November 30, 2022, the NLRB found that Starbucks has unlawfully refused to recognize and bargain with the union at its Reserve Roastery Store in Seattle following an election in May 2022. Starbucks has appealed the NLRB’s decision to the Ninth Circuit.”

The committee’s analysis — which also takes on the company’s claim that it is a “model employer” and that the unionization push does not reflect the desires of the majority of its workforce — concludes that “Starbucks has engaged in the most significant union-busting campaign in modern history.”

“Just because Starbucks is a $113 billion company and Howard Schultz is a billionaire with a net worth of $3.7 billion does not mean that they are above the law,” the report says. “They must be held accountable for creating a culture that allows widespread violations of federal labor law in an effort to stop workers from exercising their constitutional right to organize.”

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