WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accused Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz of waging the “most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country,” on Wednesday at a hearing held by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Schultz, who initially refused to testify before the committee until the threat of a subpoena forced his eventual appearance, emphatically denied any unlawful interference with unionization efforts under his leadership.
Sanders, chair of the Committee, has long criticized Schultz as anti-union and has accused the company of impeding multiple attempts at unionization.
“Think about a multi-billion dollar company with unlimited resources, with all kinds of lawyers, advisors, and consultants, and yet they have not signed one contract with any of them, nearly 300 unionized shops,” Sanders said.
Schultz, who referred to his employees as partners throughout the hearing, highlighted his vision for the coffee business as being oriented in the state of “humanity, respect, and shared success” and stated his appreciation for all partners regardless of whether they want to join a union. “We are a different kind of public company that balances profitability with a social conscience,” he said. Notwithstanding the National Labor Relations Board’s conclusion that Starbucks’ approach was unlawful, he strongly maintained his conviction that the company “did not break the law.”
Ranking member Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who claimed he had not come to defend Starbucks, questioned the hearing’s title, calling it “a smear campaign against an individual and company” that is not founded on facts.
A number of GOP committee members rallied around Starbucks, arguing that the company was being unfairly targeted and that the criticism of its union-busting practices amounted to an attack on capitalism and the American dream.
“You’re being grilled by people who have never had the opportunity to create a single job,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, channeling the same sentiments about the target of successful businesses.
According to Sander’s staff report, the NLRB has filed over 80 complaints against Starbucks for breaking federal labor law, and over 500 unfair labor practice accusations have been lodged against the company.
Schultz maintained that the business had not broken the law and is merely abiding by the regulations established by Congress.
Sen. Cassidy further cautioned the committee to acknowledge the NLRB’s own credibility problems, citing the “weaponization of the agency against American employers” and the fact that it benefits “politically connected labor organizations.” He refers to four different accusations of NLRB employee interference that are currently before the Board, three of which involved Starbucks as the employer.