Bernie Sanders confronts former Starbucks CEO over allegations of subverting unions
WASHINGTON. Democratic senators at Wednesday’s hearing questioned the former Starbucks CEO over allegations that the giant coffee company intimidated, harassed and fired workers who tried to unionize.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and former presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has focused on Starbucks’ anti-union actions, such as failing to negotiate union contracts in good faith for hundreds of stores. .
Since 2021, nearly 300 Starbucks stores have unionized and been certified by the National Labor Relations Board, but the company has not ratified the agreement with these unions.
Sanders accused Starbucks of slipping.
“What is outrageous to me is not only Starbucks’ anti-union activities and their willingness to break the law, but also their calculated and deliberate attempts to delay, slow down and slow down. They understand that turnover at Starbucks is high,” Sanders said in his opening statement.
“They understand that if the workers don’t see success in getting a contract and a pay rise, they may become disillusioned.”
He reached out to Starbucks founder and former billionaire CEO Howard Schultz about the delays in union ratification and asked him if he could make a promise that within two weeks Starbucks would negotiate and ratify its first union agreement.
Schultz made no commitment, but said he would continue to negotiate in good faith.
The National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency, has filed more than 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor laws. Starbucks has about 9,300 company-operated stores.
Schultz agreed to appear before the committee after Sanders threatened to take him to court. Schultz stepped down as the company’s CEO in early March, but remains on the board.
Schultz reiterated to Democratic senators that Starbucks had not violated any laws, regardless of the NLRB’s findings and federal judges’ rulings. He said employees have the right to unionize, and he and Starbucks also have the right to preference, which “is to maintain direct contact” with employees.
“These are allegations and Starbucks did not break the law,” Schultz said. “We are confident that these allegations (NLRB) will prove to be false.”
GOP defends Starbucks
Republicans on the panel disagreed with Sanders attacking the business, arguing that Starbucks created thousands of jobs. They wondered if the NLRB was truly nonpartisan.
The top Republican on the committee, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said the hearing was a smear campaign against Schultz and suggests Starbucks is at fault.
“This is an unfair and fair hearing,” Cassidy said.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said the hearing was a conflict of interest because Democrats typically receive campaign contributions from union groups.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, asked Schultz no questions but said he refused to participate in a “witch hunt that vilifies any American business, so don’t count me.”
Schultz was the only witness in the first group, while two Starbucks employees and labor law experts were in the second group.
Ahead of the hearing, Democratic Party committee officials released a report describing Starbucks’ refusal to negotiate with union members and participating in an “aggressive and illegal campaign to destroy unions.”
Schultz said that unions played an important role in American business, but in his opinion these unions were created for companies that engaged in “heinous” practices, and “I can only say that in my own company, based on the track record, believe us, we are this company”.
“Starbucks doesn’t need a union,” Schultz said.
In early March, NLRB AL Judge Michael Rosas found Starbucks guilty of harassing employees for unionizing, illegally monitoring employees who attempted to unionize, transferring union workers to other stores, and increasing store staffing prior to the vote to unionize, among other things.
The judge also ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven employees who were found to have been wrongfully fired.
This case concerns 32 unfair allegations against Starbucks from August 2021 to July 2022 at 21 stores in Buffalo, New York, including the first Starbucks store to unionize.
Democrats broadcast voter complaints
Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat from Colorado, said he spoke to Starbucks workers in his state who are frustrated with the company’s response to employees who want to unionize.
Schultz said that he and the company “maintain a level of respect for anyone who wears a green apron.”
Schultz took issue with many Democrats who said they heard from their constituents who work at Starbucks that the company is reducing work hours for pro-union employees or preventing employees from receiving credit card tips.
Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington State, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Tina Smith of Minnesota said they had heard of anti-union activity by unionized Starbucks employees in their respective states.
Murray said she’s heard from several Starbucks employees in her state who say they’ve been denied travel benefits due to their abortion.
“I get offended,” Schultz told Murray, “when you talk about what you heard, but it’s not true.”
Smith said Starbucks employees in her state have said business meetings last no more than six minutes.
“I think it’s a failure to negotiate in good faith,” Smith said.
Schultz said Starbucks is against virtual or online negotiation meetings and will only accept face-to-face negotiation meetings. He said that these meetings are ongoing.
Bloomberg reported that NLRB lawyers found that Starbucks illegally refused to trade on Zoom.
Luhan said work hours have been cut so much that they have lost their medical benefits provided by Starbucks. For an employee to be eligible for health care, Starbucks requires these employees to work approximately 20 hours a week.
Senator Mike Brown, a Republican from Indiana, said that unions are something that larger companies will fight and said one of the best ways to avoid unions is to provide workers with good compensation and benefits. He asked Schultz what Starbucks employees earn.
Schultz said that on average, workers earn $17 an hour, while a manager’s salary is about $80,000.
“Even $17 an hour is not a living wage,” Brown said. “Any large corporation doesn’t necessarily have to brag about a $15 to $20 salary. If you look at the typical structure of a large company, it should probably be over $20.”
Starbucks employees testify
Sanders asked two witnesses who worked at Starbucks if the company was involved in anti-union activities.
Maggie Carter, a Starbucks barista in Knoxville, Tennessee, said workers had to attend local branch management meetings at meetings that discouraged unions.
She said that one of the managers who came to the store for the meeting “infected several partners with COVID at this meeting and we had to close for five days.”
Jacin Saxton of Augusta, Georgia, said he was fired for his involvement in organizing a union at his store.
He said the management team arrived as they unionized to make their store more efficient.
“Increasing the efficiency of our store has resulted in us constantly showing up to work when everything was moving,” he said. “So every single day we had to re-learn where everything was.”
Sanders asked Saxton what he thought of Schultz’s denial of anti-union tactics.
“They were definitely anti-union activities,” Saxton said.
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