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Sanders Slams Starbucks CEO for Refusing to Testify at Hearing on Union Busting

The senator suggested that he may subpoena CEO Howard Schultz to force him to testify.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz pauses as he talks to reporters at a news conference after speaking at Purdue University's Fowler Hall on February 7, 2019, in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Starbucks CEO and notorious union buster Howard Schultz is facing criticism after he turned down Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vermont) request that he appear before Congress in a hearing next month.

In a scathing statement, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Sanders said that it is “disappointing, but not surprising” that Schultz would turn down the request from himself and HELP Committee Democrats to testify about Starbucks’s rampant union busting.

“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. If Mr. Schultz believes that a multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks can break federal labor law with impunity he is mistaken,” Sanders said.

The senator suggested that he may use his power as HELP chair to issue a subpoena to force Schultz to appear before the committee, as he has said he’s willing to do.

“As the Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, I intend to hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee,” the senator concluded.

Starbucks told Sanders on Tuesday that Schultz does not want to testify, offering to send another executive to the hearing instead. Starbucks general counsel Zabrina Jenkins cited the fact that Schultz is stepping down from his position as CEO later this year as the reason for his skirting the lawmakers’ call.

However, Schultz – who was reportedly Hillary Clinton’s top pick for labor secretary in her 2016 presidential run – has likely played a large role in the company’s anti-union campaign, which escalated to new heights after Schultz retook the helm of the company last year.

When the company announced that the three-time Starbucks CEO was coming back, workers said that the company was bringing him on specifically to fight their union effort and that he has told workers that he views the union campaign as a personal insult to himself.

According to Starbucks Workers United, labor officials have issued 60 complaints containing over 1,200 alleged labor law violations against Starbucks. That amounts to about 3 labor violations on average for every one of the 376 stores that have filed for union elections over the past year and a half.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), a HELP Committee member who joined in Sanders’s call for Schultz to testify last week, feigned puzzlement at Schultz’s refusal in a tweet. Sharing four news headlines highlighting Starbucks actions that labor officials have deemed illegal and the company’s effort to suppress the union by firing workers, Markey wrote: “Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is refusing to testify in front of our committee. What do you think he’s hiding from?”

Labor supporters mocked Schultz for refusing to appear, calling himcoward Schultz”; the union said that his move amounted to “Howardice.”

“C’mon, Howie,” tweeted the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “All you have to do is explain that you want to silence your workers and violate their rights – as anyone would do – because they hurt your feelings … and because maybe you’re afraid their union might make you a SLIGHTLY poorer Billionaire.”

This is not the first time that Schultz has faced scrutiny from Sanders in particular. Sanders has sent Schultz several letters urging him to stop Starbucks’s “unethical and unlawful” union busting, including in a letter sent last October co-signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). The Vermont senator has been a vocal supporter of the Starbucks union effort, which has itself inspired several other union efforts across the U.S.