Starbucks declined to make interim CEO Howard Schultz available to testify before Congress next month, according to a letter sent by Starbucks’ general counsel Zabrina Jenkins on Tuesday.
Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders and 10 other Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions demanded that Schultz testify in the March 9 session regarding Starbucks’ compliance with federal labor laws. Sanders, who chairs the committee, warned that he would subpoena Schultz if the CEO ignored or refused the invitation.
Starbucks’ letter argued that Schultz will transition out of the CEO job next month and will not have any operating roles, making him less suited to address labor matters at the hearing.
In a statement on Wednesday, Sanders said “it is disappointing, but not surprising, that Howard Schultz, the CEO and director of Starbucks, has declined an invitation” from the committee.
“If Mr. Schultz believes that a multibillion-dollar corporation like Starbucks can break federal labor law with impunity, he is mistaken,” Sanders said.
Seattle-based Starbucks intends to send Executive Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer AJ Jones II to appear before the committee, according to the letter. Jones has been with the company since September 2021 and previously served as a senior aide to Democratic Rep. James Clyburn.
“Jones is the best person to address workforce policy matters,” according to Jenkins’ letter. His “experience on workforce issues led him to preside over a number of employer and health legislative issues before the Congress.”
Sanders could potentially subpoena Schultz to attend without support from Republican senators. The Vermont senator took the helm of the committee, previously chaired by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, this month.
“This is corporate greed,” Sanders said when he announced he was requesting Schultz to testify. “We intend to be asking Mr. Schultz some very hard questions.”
In a process that has brought clashes between workers and Starbucks, which has long prided itself as a model employer for its compensation and benefits, 282 stores have unionized out of 10,000 in the U.S. The National Labor Relations Board has received 497 unfair labor practices complaints against Starbucks, and the company has filed 83 against the union.
The NLRB has acted on some of the complaints nationwide. In one instance, NLRB prosecutors argued that the company broke the law at Seattle’s Reserve Roastery on Capitol Hill by intimidating and threatening employees for organizing a union.
Starbucks has consistently denied accusations of unfair labor practices, arguing it has bargained in good faith with several unionized stores. Responding to the NLRB’s allegations about the Reserve Roastery, a Starbucks spokesperson said this month the “actions at the Seattle Roastery were in alignment with 80 years of labor and employment law. We have consistently encouraged our partners to exercise their right to vote in union elections.”
Jenkins said in the letter that Starbucks “has been extensively engaged in good faith bargaining at more than 200 locations.” She added that Starbucks “has not been found to have violated the law as part of any enforced Order of the NLRB.”
Starbucks Interim CEO Howard Schultz declined to testify before Congress in response to a request by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders could potentially subpoena Schultz.
Brian Cahn, Zuma Press Starbucks Interim CEO Howard Schultz declined to testify before Congress in response to a request by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders could potentially subpoena Schultz.
Brian Cahn, Zuma Press / Lincoln Journal Star / Lee Enterprises / Seattle Times
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