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Howard Schultz declined Bernie Sanders’ request to testify before Congress

<i>Steven Ferdman/Getty Images</i><br/>Howard Shultz
Getty Images
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
Howard Shultz

By Dayun Park

Howard Schultz has declined Bernie Sanders’ request to testify before Congress.

In a refusal relatively rare on Capitol Hill, Starbucks Chief Executive Schultz turned the Vermont senior senator down Tuesday when asked to appear and testify about the coffee giant’s compliance with federal labor laws.

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, along with 10 other members of it, asked Schultz last week to attend a public hearing on March 9 and answer questions on the company’s history of suppressing union-organization efforts.

In the invitation, Sanders said that Starbucks “has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union busting.”

Starbucks has faced a labor battle since a Buffalo store became the first to unionize in 2021. While Starbucks Workers United has sought better pay and benefits, the company has apparently put efforts into retaliating against workers who tried to unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board regional offices have issued 76 complaints against Starbucks alleging illegal layoffs, closing stores and threatening to withhold pay hikes and benefits, mostly filed since 2021.

About 100 Starbucks stores across the U.S staged a three-day strike in December, following a one-day strike in November, to protest unfair labor practices. So far, Starbucks has not negotiated a contract with any of the stores that voted to unionize.

Schultz, an interim CEO, rejoined Starbucks in April 2022 after two previous multi-year stints at the company. He plans to step down in April and therefore cannot join the hearing as he is in “fully transition” model, according to Starbucks general counsel Zabrina Jenkins.

“Given the timing of the transition, his relinquishment of any operating role in the company going forward, and what we understand to be the subject of the hearing, we believe another senior leader with ongoing responsibilities is best suited to address these matters,” the general counsel’s statement said.

Starbucks announced that its chief public affairs officer and executive vice president AJ Jones II, will attend instead. Jones is a former senior aide to Democratic Representative James Clyburn.

“It is unfortunate that Howard Schultz, the architect of Starbucks’ unprecedented union-busting campaign, is refusing to take accountability for his actions and is instead sending a subordinate in his place. One of the main reasons Starbucks workers organized is to hold billionaire executives, like Schultz, accountable for their actions,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement to CNN.

Said Sanders in his statement, “Apparently, it is easier for Mr. Schultz to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions… than to answer questions from elected officials. I intend to hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee.”

Last week, Sanders told The Associated Press that he would consider using the committee’s subpoena power if Schultz declined his invitation. Sander’s office didn’t respond to CNN’s inquiries regarding that possibility.

A total of 338 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since 2021, 282 have been certified across 36 states and 56 didn’t get certified. An additional three elections are currently in progress.

Starbucks said to CNN: “At those stores where our partners have chosen to petition for union representation, we have fully honored the process laid out by the NLRB and have worked to ensure that partners can trust the process is fair, their voice is heard, and that the outcome is accurate.”

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