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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Steps Down Early, Just Days Before Senate Hearing

Schultz is slated to testify before Bernie Sanders’s Senate HELP Committee next week.

CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz drinks an espresso he made at Starbucks Reserve on the first floor of Starbucks Headquarters on Investor Day in Seattle, Washington, on September 13, 2022.

Howard Schultz announced on Tuesday that he is stepping down from his post as Starbucks CEO two weeks earlier than his scheduled departure date, resigning just before a hearing led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) about the company’s union busting next week.

Schultz began his third stint as CEO of the company last year when, as workers said, the company brought him back to lead the fight against Starbucks Workers United’s wildly successful union campaign.

The past year has been marked with aggressive union busting by the company, which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled has broken the law over 1,400 times throughout the campaign — including violations by Schultz himself. Schultz will be replaced by Laxman Narasimhan, a former PepsiCo executive.

Schultz’s resignation was met with staid acceptance by the union.

“Over 7,500 workers have been actively organizing to return to Starbucks’s mission and values. Our movement stands for racial justice, inclusivity, and sustainability. We are hopeful that Laxman Narasimhan will chart a new path with the union and work with us to make Starbucks the company we know it can be,” said Starbucks Workers United organizer and Buffalo barista Michelle Eisen.

“We look forward to Howard Schultz testifying before the Senate HELP committee on March 29th and being forced to answer for his actions,” Eisen continued.

The CEO’s early resignation comes just after he was called, rather forcibly, to testify before the Senate. Originally, Schultz was scheduled to step down from his position on April 1. But that would be after the March 29 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee — headed by Sanders — that was announced earlier this month.

The fact that the company appeared extremely reluctant to send Schultz to testify before the committee could be evidence that Schultz’s early resignation was strategically timed. In February, the company turned down Sanders’s request that Schultz testify before the HELP Committee and offered to send another executive to testify instead.

Sanders rebuffed the counteroffer and scheduled a committee vote to subpoena Schultz instead — and, just one day before the vote was slated to take place, Schultz agreed to testify.

Now, though Sanders’s director of communications has confirmed that Schultz will still testify, he will no longer be doing so as the CEO of Starbucks. Schultz will still remain a member of the board, but will likely claim more distance from the day-to-day operations as ex-CEO, and headlines about his testimony will no longer reflect that the CEO of the company was called before the Senate.

Labor leaders say that Schultz’s resignation doesn’t change the fact that he must be held accountable for the company’s union busting. “Howard Schultz may not have the title of CEO anymore @Starbucks but that doesn’t change the fact he still needs to be held accountable and answer for his union busting tactics,” wrote Teamsters President Sean O’Brien. “Also piece of advice to his successor: you have the opportunity to change the narrative, don’t mess it up.”

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