Starbucks' Former CEO Is Still Saying He Isn't A Union Buster

Just days after stepping down early from his role as CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz appeared before Senator Bernie Sanders and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). The March 29 hearing was intended to address the laundry list of labor violations alleged against the coffee kingpin by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

In somewhat unsurprising news, Schultz, who now serves as a member of the Starbucks Board of Directors, continued to deny the NLRB's claims that he has obstructed union activity at the chain through unlawful firings, threats, surveillance, and incentives for non-union workers. When questioned about such actions, Schultz told the committee that "Starbucks has not broken the law." Senator Sanders begged to differ, stating that "Starbucks has waged the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country."

Many Starbucks employees would agree. On March 22, the day before Starbucks' annual shareholders meeting, thousands of pro-union Starbucks employees took up their picket signs across the country in a massive strike demanding in-person contract meetings between Starbucks Workers United representatives and the company's corporate leaders. 

Schultz denies his role in firings and store closures

If Senator Sanders' comments at this week's Senate hearing weren't enough to convey the extent to which Howard Schultz is viewed as the mascot of Starbucks' union-busting allegations, then the audience — which was filled with Starbucks workers and union allies sporting Starbucks Workers United shirts — certainly was. In a video of the hearing, pro-union members can be heard laughing at Schultz's denials of union-busting. Attempts at negotiation meetings have been fraught with conflict, with Starbucks Workers United members claiming the company refuses to entertain union contracts. 

Schultz began his case by stressing the benefits available to full- and part-time Starbucks employees, claiming that they "[give workers] a chance at a better life." He also maintained that, with his company's "direct relationship" with its workers, unions are unnecessary. But as Senator Tammy Baldwin argued, the word "direct" might be a bit of a stretch. "You employ over 235,000 people — over 3,000 in my home state of Wisconsin alone," she said. "You can't possibly have a direct relationship with all of them."

Senator Sanders ended the hearing by asking Starbucks employees in the audience what it's like to work at the company. One employee said that "$15 an hour is not enough to pay bills and actually survive." She adds that the hours required to obtain benefits are in direct conflict with scheduling cuts. She was recently taken off of her benefits program due to claims that she no longer qualifies.