It was never going to be easy for the intermittents Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday. Chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, members questioned Schultz about Starbucks’ treatment of workers and unions — and, in some cases, alleged illegal anti-union. But what really happened under the former CEO’s skin was that Sanders and other committee members repeatedly called him a billionaire.
“That ‘billionaire’ moniker, let’s go okay?” Schultz said during the hearing. “I grew up in federally subsidized housing, my parents never owned a house, I started with nothing. I thought my whole life was based on achieving the American dream. Yes I have billions of dollars, I have earned them. Nobody gave it to me. »
Schultz was twice Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, serving two terms from 1986 to 2000, then from 2008 to 2017, before feedback as interim CEO of the company in 2022. He resigned of this role last week. During Schultz’s tenure in 1992, Starbucks became public and has become one of the biggest brands in the world, with a market capitalization of $118 billion. Meanwhile, Schultz’s net worth has catapulted to $3.7 billion in 2023, according Forbes.
During the hearing, Sanders and Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota repeatedly criticized Schultz for his wealth, a topic Sanders has made central to his political career. During questioning, Smith suggested that Starbucks workers had the right to unionize because of power imbalances between employees and billionaire Schultz.
“You are a billionaire and these are your employees. The power imbalance is extreme and that’s why people want to come together to form a union,” Smith said.
Schultz expressed frustration with Smith’s characterization as a billionaire, adding that the same thing had been said “several times by the president” while pointing the finger at Sanders. “It’s your nickname, constantly, and it’s unfair,” Schultz told Sanders during the hearing.
Schultz spent most of her childhood in the Bayview housing projects in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, according to a 2011 profile in the New York Times. When Schultz explored in progress as an independent candidate for the 2020 presidential election, he has often mention his past from rags to riches.
Some have called Schultz’s characterization of his childhood misleading, with a former Bayview resident who knew Schultz personally describing the project as a “bright, wonderful world” that was “middle class, not lower middle class”, according an interview in 2019 with the Washington Post.
Schultz’s frustration with Sanders’ characterization of the wealthy was shared by some Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, including Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin, who defended Schultz during the hearing.
“I take offense to the president pointing out that all CEOs are corrupt because they’re millionaires,” Mullin said. “If you make a lot of money, you are corrupt.”
He continued: “Still, it bothers me because, Mr. President, you yourself have done very well, and rightly so. Glad you were. You’ve been in the job for 28 years and you and your wife have [amassed] a wealth of over $8 million,” adding that Sanders’ wealth was bolstered by a new book published last month.
Sanders disputed Mullin’s claims, calling them a “lie”. He is worth around $2 million from real estate deals and investment funds, according to a 2019 Policy profile.
“I think you have an all-time record here. You made more mistakes in a shorter amount of time than I’ve ever heard of,” Sanders told Mullin on Wednesday. “If I’m worth $8 million, that’s good news for me. I’m not aware of it. It’s a lie.”
Sanders sought to get the hearing back on track to focus on the union-busting charges: “The subject of this hearing is whether workers have the constitutional right to form a union,” he said. “The evidence is overwhelming, not from me, but from the National Labor Relations Board, is that time and time again – despite what Mr. Schultz says – Starbucks has broken the law and prevented workers from joining unions to bargain collectively for decent wages and benefits.
The National Labor Relations Council has accused Starbucks to refuse to bargain with newly organized unions, a violation of labor laws. Schultz has a long story anti-union behavior, but pushed back Wednesday against his characterization as a union breaker, while denying that Starbucks violated labor laws.