The coffee chain has been accused of retaliation against workers involved in the organizing efforts.
The former CEO of the Starbucks coffee chain testified before a US Senate committee, responding to allegations that the company unlawfully retaliated against employees involved in the organizing efforts.
In a tense exchange, Howard Schultz faced “anti-union” accusations from progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, who criticized the former executive’s time overseeing the coffee giant.
“The fundamental question we face today is whether we have a justice system that applies to everyone or whether billionaires and big corporations can break the law with impunity,” Sanders said.
It’s that fun time of year to stop breaking unions and negotiate a fair contract with your workers. https://t.co/URLKIlxucj
—Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 28, 2023
Starbucks, along with other big U.S. brands like Amazon and Apple, have faced a flurry of union bids in recent years as workers push for better wages and working conditions.
Schultz, who resigned as Acting CEO of Starbuck earlier this month admitted at Wednesday’s committee hearing that unionized sites were excluded from a wage increase announced in May.
However, he said the company had done nothing illegal and fired contrary accusations as “allegations”.
The testimony comes as the United States sees a surge in support for work activity. Polling firm Gallup found that 71% of Americans approved of union organizing in 2022, a high not seen since 1965.
In December 2021, cafes in Buffalo, New York, became the first Starbucks locations to successfully vote to unionize. Since then, about 300 locations have voted to follow suit.
But some employees said they faced serious consequences. In August, a federal judge decided that Starbucks should rehire seven pro-union workers who had been fired in an apparent act of retaliation.
Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, a disabled veteran and former Starbucks employee named Jaysin Saxton said he was watched by managers and fired. for being “disruptive” after participating in a union organizing effort.
“I received no criticism or disciplinary action,” Saxton said. “There was no investigation”
On Wednesday, Starbucks shareholders voted to conduct an independent assessment of the company’s labor practices to determine whether they violate “principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.”