U.S. coffee chain Starbucks on Tuesday told the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that interim CEO Howard Schultz has no intention of testifying before the panel as Chairman Bernie Sanders requested last week, sparking speculation that the progressive senator could use his subpoena power to compel the billionaire executive to appear at an upcoming hearing.
Sanders (I-Vt.) was joined by Democrats on the committee in writing a letter to the company on February 7, asking Schultz to testify on the company's "decisions with respect to complying with our nation's labor laws and negotiating a first contract with union workers at Starbucks."
Sanders (I-Vt.) called Starbucks' response to the request "disappointing, but not surprising."
"Apparently, it is easier for Mr. Schultz to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions, and to intimidate others who may be interested in joining a union than to answer questions from elected officials," said the senator Wednesday.
Schultz has played a central role in attempting to quash unionization efforts at the company's stores across the country. After workers in Buffalo launched efforts to form a bargaining unit in 2021, the Starbucks co-founder flew in to the city to hold an anti-union meeting with employees just before they were set to vote on the issue.
The CEO, who is scheduled to leave the company in April, has been personally named in some of the 75 complaints against Starbucks filed by the National Labor Relations Board general counsel, accusing the company of illegal union-busting tactics such as intimidation and retaliation.
On Monday, ahead of Starbucks' response to Sanders, Schultz brushed off the workers at 366 of the company's stores in 39 states who have organized to form bargaining units despite Starbucks' aggressive anti-union efforts, tellingThe Washington Post that they are "angry at the world."
"They're angry at YOU and your despicable union-busting tactics," countered economic justice group Patriotic Millionaires.
In response to Sanders' request for Schultz's testimony, the company offered to send A.J. Jones II, an executive vice president and chief communications officer, instead of the CEO.
"This could get interesting," said labor reporter Steven Greenhouse after Sanders sent the request, noting that the senator has repeatedly called on Schultz to testify.
"If Mr. Schultz believes that a multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks can break federal labor law with impunity he is mistaken," said Sanders Wednesday. "As the chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, I intend to hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee."
Sanders said last week that he is willing to use the panel's subpoena power to force Schultz to testify, but he did not address that possibility directly in his statement.
After writing to Starbucks last week, the senator told the Associated Press that the HELP Committee intends "to be asking Mr. Schultz some very hard questions" and that Starbucks and other union-busting corporations "should be nervous."
"This is corporate greed," Sanders told the outlet. "Workers have a constitutional right to organize. And even if you are a large, multinational corporation owned by a billionaire you don't have the right to violate the law."
Note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Sen. Bernie Sanders.