Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Thursday that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has relented to pressure and agreed to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee later this month, news that came just 24 hours before the panel was set to vote on whether to subpoena the billionaire executive.
"I'm happy to announce that Howard Schultz, the CEO and founder of Starbucks, has finally agreed to testify before the Senate HELP Committee," Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the panel, said in a statement. "The HELP Committee was scheduled to vote tomorrow to subpoena him and I want to thank the members of the committee who, in a bipartisan way, were prepared to do just that."
"Let's be clear. In America, workers have the constitutional right to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining to improve their wages and working conditions," the senator continued. "Unfortunately Starbucks, under Mr. Schultz's leadership, has done everything possible to prevent that from happening."
Schultz decision to appear before the committee comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the HELP Committee and Starbucks, which Sanders has accused of stonewalling the panel's efforts to obtain documents and testimony regarding the company's aggressive and ongoing fight against employee unionization efforts.
Workers at more than 280 Starbucks locations across the U.S. have voted to unionize since December 2021, but Starbucks has been accused of dragging its feet and unlawfully obstructing contract talks.
"The National Labor Relations Board has issued over 80 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law and an Administrative Law Judge in New York recently ruled that Starbucks has engaged in 'egregious and widespread misconduct' in a union organizing campaign that started in 2019," Sanders said Tuesday. "Despite the fact that over 280 Starbucks coffee shops have successfully voted to form a union over the past year, Starbucks has refused to negotiate in good faith to sign a single first contract with their employees."
Last week, Sanders publicly dismissed Starbucks' offer to send subordinates to testify in the place of Schultz, who is set to leave the CEO post at the end of March.
"We look forward to Howard Schultz testifying in front of the U.S. Senate," tweeted Starbucks Workers United, which represents thousands of Starbucks employees. "As the architect of Starbucks' unprecedented anti-union campaign, it is high time for him to be held accountable for his actions. Howard Schultz needs to learn that even billionaires aren't above the law."
Asked during a press conference what he hopes to hear from Schultz at the March 29 hearing, Sanders said he wants the Starbucks CEO to "tell us that at long last he is going to stop his illegal activity, that he is going to sit down with the union and negotiate a contract."
"That's what I want, nothing more than that," Sanders added. "To obey the law. I don't think that's asking too much."