Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schutz has turned down a request to appear before a Senate committee to question him about the coffee chain’s response to an ongoing union campaign at the company’s US stores.
When Shultz rejected the call from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he received a stern rebuke from the committee’s chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders.
“Apparently Mr. Schultz finds it easier to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions and intimidate others who might be interested in joining a union than to answer questions from elected officials,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent in a statement Wednesday.
The Vermont Independent earlier this month sent Schultz a letter asking him to appear at a hearing on March 9 about the union campaign and Starbucks’ “compliance with federal labor laws.” The letter was signed by the 10 Democrats on the committee.
As of late 2021, at least 286 company-owned Starbucks stores across the US have voted to unionize. Starbucks does not support the effort, and the process has been controversial. Regional officials from the National Labor Relations Board have filed 76 complaints against the company over various issues, including a failure to conduct negotiations. Starbucks, meanwhile, has filed 86 lawsuits alleging unfair labor practices against the Starbucks Workers United union.
In a letter of its own sent to the committee Tuesday, Starbucks noted that Schultz __, a longtime Starbucks CEO who came out of retirement last year to take the interim CEO job, __ left in late March will resign from this role. Laxman Narasimhan, a former PepsiCo executive, will become the new CEO of Starbucks on April 1. Schultz remains on the company’s board of directors.
Seattle-based Starbucks said AJ Jones II, Starbucks chief public affairs officer, is better placed to discuss the union campaign because he is more involved. The company also said it negotiated to reach a contractual agreement in more than 200 stores that voted to unionize.
How the committee will proceed is unclear. In his statement Wednesday, Sanders said he intends to “Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee.”
The committee has the power to subpoena Schultz, but it’s not yet clear if they will use it. A message asking for comment was emailed to a committee spokesman on Wednesday.