Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed Thursday to move ahead with a planned vote to force Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify on the company's numerous labor law violations after the coffee chain offered up other executives to appear in the billionaire's place.
In a letter to Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Starbucks general counsel Zabrina Jenkins wrote that the company is "shocked and deeply concerned" that the senator has rejected proposed stand-ins for Schultz, including executive vice president AJ Jones II.
"Respectfully, Howard Schultz is not the right witness for the hearing," Jenkins wrote, insisting that the Starbucks CEO "delegated decisionmaking regarding actions to be taken on union issues to a small team of executives which includes Mr. Jones."
Jenkins also emphasized that Schultz, who has been directly rebuked by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for threatening pro-union workers, is stepping down as CEO at the end of the month.
Sanders made clear in his response letter that he wasn't persuaded by the company's rationale.
Echoing the language of Starbucks' letter, Sanders wrote that he is "shocked and deeply concerned that Howard Schultz would continue to defy a request made by a majority of members on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) to testify about the 80 complaints issued by the National Labor Relations Board against Starbucks for violating federal labor law, the more than 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against Starbucks, and the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers."
"Let's be clear," Sanders continued. "Howard Schultz is the founder of Starbucks, he is the CEO of Starbucks, he is the spokesperson of Starbucks, and he will continue to be on the Board of Directors at Starbucks well into the future. In numerous media interviews, Mr. Schultz has made it clear that he is the driving force of labor policy at Starbucks. For these reasons, the Senate HELP Committee invited Howard Schultz to testify, not a subordinate, because he is the man who engineered and continues to make labor decisions at Starbucks."
"At some point in the future, we may well want to hear from other executives as to how Starbucks intends to abide by the law and allow workers to form unions," the senator added. "But right now, the immediate issue is to hear from Mr. Schultz."
Sanders announced earlier this week that the Senate HELP Committee will vote this coming Wednesday on whether to subpoena Schultz after the executive refused to voluntarily cooperate with the panel's requests for meetings, documents, and answers to questions about Starbucks' union-busting activities.
Starbucks has denied allegations from workers and the NLRB that it is targeting and firing union organizers, unlawfully threatening pro-union workers with the loss of benefits, cutting workers' hours, and refusing to bargain in good faith with employees who have voted to unionize.
Since the groundbreaking victory in Buffalo, New York in December 2021, more than 280 Starbucks locations across the United States have opted to join Workers United, the union representing Starbucks employees.
Schultz returned for his third stint as Starbucks CEO in early 2022, a move widely seen as part of the company's attempt to crush the nascent union movement. Starbucks Workers United says the company has fired more than 200 workers for engaging in legally protected union activity.
In his letter on Thursday, Sanders pointed to a federal administrative law judge's ruling earlier this week that "detailed a November 2021 meeting—before Mr. Schultz had even returned to the company as CEO—that he had with all Buffalo-area Starbucks workers."
"These workers were forced to attend this meeting while every Buffalo-area store was closed to listen to Mr. Schultz one month prior to union elections that were held in the area," Sanders wrote. "This meeting makes clear the enormous power and influence Mr. Schultz has over labor policy at Starbucks even when he is not the official CEO of the company."
"The American people are sick and tired of multinational corporations violating labor laws with impunity," he continued. "Howard Schultz may be a multibillionaire, but he has got to understand that he and the multibillion-dollar corporation he runs are not above the law."