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Howard Schultz speaks during a Starbucks shareholder meeting

Then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz spoke at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Washington on March 22, 2017. (Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders to Returning Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz: 'End the Union-Busting'

"Please respect the Constitution of the United States and do not illegally hamper the efforts of your employees to unionize," the Vermont senator wrote in a letter to Schultz.

Jake Johnson

With Howard Schultz set to begin his third tenure as Starbucks CEO next month amid a growing wave of labor organizing at coffee shops across the U.S., Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday demanded that the billionaire bring an immediate end to the "massive union-busting campaign" led by the company's retiring chief executive.

"Mr. Schultz: This is a pivotal moment for Starbucks. As you return to the company, it is time to do the right thing."

"Please respect the Constitution of the United States and do not illegally hamper the efforts of your employees to unionize," Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, wrote in a letter to Schultz. "Like all workers in America, Starbucks employees have the right to form a union and collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and reliable schedules."

The Vermont senator's message came days after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a formal complaint against the Seattle-based company on behalf of Starbucks Workers United, a group assisting Starbucks employees' unionization efforts in dozens of states nationwide. The complaint accused the coffee chain of unlawfully retaliating against union organizers in Phoenix, Arizona.

As Sanders noted in his letter, the NLRB has also "found that Starbucks unlawfully retaliated against two Starbucks workers in Philadelphia" as they attempted to form a union at their shop. Five Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York and one in Mesa, Arizona have already voted to form a union, and around 140 organizing drives are currently underway across the U.S.

"Workers have been fired for 'the crime' of being pro-union," Sanders wrote. "Pro-union employees have had their hours sharply reduced. Work schedules have repeatedly changed. Executives at Starbucks have intimidated and coerced workers into attending captive anti-union meetings. Starbucks has temporarily closed some pro-union shops and threatened to close others and has hired at least 30 lawyers from Littler Mendelson, a notorious anti-union law firm."

"Mr. Schultz: This is a pivotal moment for Starbucks," Sanders added. "As you return to the company, it is time to do the right thing: End the union-busting and obey the law."

Schultz hardly garnered a pro-worker reputation during his previous stints as Starbucks' top executive. As the progressive media organization More Perfect Union noted in a blog post last week, "Schultz has been virulently anti-union since the 1980s."

The post continues:

Schultz created Starbucks by merging two coffee chains. One was unionized—that's why employees have decent benefits. Schultz made life hell for workers, ran a union-busting campaign, and got them to disband the union...

In the late '90s, Starbucks workers tried to unionize again. That brought a ferocious campaign to stop them—which they overcame to win their election at a single store. It was a short-lived success because of the threats and intimidation that followed.

Schultz's Starbucks continued to fight workers that wanted to organize over the next 20 years. In 2004, a number of cafes tried to unionize. Starbucks ran with many of the same union-busting tactics they're using today. Back then, they worked.

After Starbucks announced last week that Schultz would be returning to the company in an interim role during its search for a permanent CEO, workers voiced concern that the billionaire was brought back specifically to thwart union momentum.

"I think it's very clear why they brought Howard back in," Casey Moore, a Buffalo employee and an organizer with Starbucks Workers United, said during a press call last week with members of the Congressional Labor Caucus.

Starbucks' leadership, Moore argued, believes that "Howard is the only person who can convince workers to not unionize."

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