A "wanted" photo of Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz is posted on a tree

A "wanted" poster of Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz is posted on a tree as striking Starbucks workers picket outside of a Starbucks coffee shop during a national strike on November 17, 2022 in San Francisco, California.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sanders Calls on Starbucks CEO to End 'Concerted and Relentless' Union-Busting Campaign

"Mr. Schultz, my request to you is simple: Obey the law," the Vermont senator wrote in a letter to Howard Schultz.

Sen. Bernie Sanders demanded in a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday that the company immediately end its "ruthless union-busting campaign" as the coffee giant's employees continue to face obstruction and retaliation while trying to organize—and win their first contract.

Sanders, the incoming chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, wrote that he has "serious concerns over Starbucks' concerted and relentless campaign against its workers' efforts to organize" and argued that the corporation's management has displayed a "flagrant disregard" for employee rights and federal law.

Since December 2021, workers at more than 270 Starbucks locations across the United States have voted to unionize—and the union has achieved a remarkable win rate of over 80% even amid aggressive backlash and illegal intimidation tactics from the company.

"There have been nearly 500 unfair labor practice cases filed against Starbucks and its affiliates," Sanders noted in his letter to Starbucks' billionaire chief executive, who is set to depart the company in April. "Further, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued 69 complaints in response to those charges and has sought emergency preliminary injunctive relief in five additional cases in the federal courts. These allegations include claims that you personally threatened a worker by saying, 'If you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you work somewhere else?'"

"These violations include discriminatorily discharging more than a dozen union organizers, attempting to interfere with workers' right to distribute and wear union material, and refusing to bargain with the union," the Vermont senator continued. "Remarkably, Starbucks argued that a preliminary injunction reinstating seven employees allegedly discharged for unionizing their store in Memphis, Tennessee was unnecessary because the union had prevailed in the election anyway."

The new letter decrying Starbucks' anti-union conduct is the second Sanders has sent to Schultz in fewer than three months, but the latest comes as the senator is preparing to take charge of the Senate HELP Committee—a panel with investigative authorities, including subpoena power, that Sanders intends to use to spotlight corporate abuses.

"The American people know that workers have a constitutional right to form unions and that corporations that engage in illegal union-busting activities must be held accountable," Sanders said in a speech late Tuesday on the state of the U.S. working class.

In his letter on Wednesday, Sanders wrote, "Mr. Schultz, my request to you is simple: Obey the law. Sit down with your workers and bargain in good faith. Agree to a first contract that is fair and just. Stop shutting down pro-union shops and reinstate workers who have been fired for union organizing."

"Sit down with your workers and bargain in good faith. Agree to a first contract that is fair and just."

In November and December, unionized Starbucks workers across the country walked off the job in an attempt to highlight the company's rampant union-busting and pressure management to stop using well-worn stall tactics to sabotage contract negotiations.

Last month, the NLRB said Starbucks unlawfully refused to engage in contract negotiations at more than 20 unionized locations in Oregon and Washington state.

Starbucks workers also say the company is imposing sweeping hours cuts following the holiday season, leaving already-precarious workers struggling to afford basic necessities.

Erin Bray, a union supporter from Starbucks' University Way store in Seattle, said Wednesday that workers at the location are "contemplating applying for food stamps and partial unemployment (neither of which are guaranteed) just to keep roofs over our heads."

"Some baristas were given 'good-faith estimates' of 35 hours per week, and Starbucks is deliberately shorting those baristas by implementing new labor metrics," said Bray. "This just goes to show that our bosses' promises aren't worth a damn, which is precisely why we want fair scheduling policies written down in black and white as part of our collective bargaining agreement."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.