Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz grilled on union-busting during Senate hearing
Washington, DC - Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz doubled down on the coffee giant's disapproval of labor unions within the company during his Senate testimony on Wednesday.
Schultz initially refused Senator Bernie Sanders' request to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) before agreeing to do so under a threat of subpoena.
Just days before the hearing, Schultz stepped down as interim CEO two weeks earlier than originally anticipated.
In Wednesday's hearing, Sanders came out swinging as he accused Schultz of unlawfully retaliating against unionized stores and employees.
"What Starbucks is doing is not only trying to break unions but even worse. They are trying to break the spirit of workers who are struggling to improve their lives. And that is unforgivable," Sanders said.
"Sir, Starbucks coffee company, unequivocally - and let me set the tone for this very early on - has not broken the law," Schultz said in response, which earned some laughter in the room.
Schultz affirmed that the company seeks "to treat everyone with respect and dignity" but emphasized that they hold the right to have a preference "to maintain the direct relationship we've had with our employees."
During the three-hour hearing, Schultz and Sanders shared several tense exchanges as the Senator pressed the billionaire (a "moniker" to which Schultz took offense) on Starbucks' treatment of unionized employees.
Howard Schultz argues "Starbucks doesn't need a union"
During the hearing, Schultz reaffirmed his opposition to unionization efforts within Starbucks, arguing that companies that treat their employees well do not need unions.
"We do nothing that is nefarious. And that's why Starbucks doesn't need a union," he said.
Still, Schultz said that the company is willing to "negotiate in good faith" on "a single-store basis" but declined to make any promises about exchanging proposals for first contracts with the union.
Sanders also asked Schultz directly if he had ever "threatened, coerced, or intimidated" employees who supported a union.
Schultz sidestepped a direct answer.
"I've had conversations that could have been interpreted in a different way than I intended," he replied.
He also reiterated Starbucks' refusal to bargain with union employees via Zoom, citing security concerns about online meetings.
Cover photo: Collage: Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP