Long duration Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was questioned before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday as he defended the company’s actions during an ongoing organizing drive.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who has been a staunch supporter of Starbucks union organizers, accused the company of delaying efforts to strike a contract with workers who first voted to unionize. end of 2021. He also said federal courts and National Labor Relations Board administrative judges found Starbucks guilty of firing union organizers and unlawfully closing unionized stores, among other tactics.
“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.
Schultz denied the company broke the law and said Starbucks is appealing the charges. Schultz said Starbucks respects the right of workers to unionize, but believes the company already provides its workers with some of the best wages and benefits in the industry.
He said Starbucks’ average starting salary was $17.50, while Vermont’s minimum wage was $13.18.
“I think unions have played an important role in American affairs for many years. In the 1950s and 60s unions generally worked on behalf of people in a company where people were not treated fairly,” Schultz said. “We don’t believe we are that kind of company. We don’t do anything evil. We put our employees first.
Sanders searched for Schultz’s testimony for months. Schultz had tried to avoid the hearing, suggesting that other members of the company were more deeply involved in labor issues.
But Sanders argues that Schultz, who stepped down as interim CEO last week but remains on the company’s board, was instrumental in setting company policies. Under threat of a summonsSchultz appeared before the committee.
According to the NLRB, at least 293 of the 9,000 Starbucks-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize. Starbucks Workers United, the union group organizing the stores, has not yet entered into a contractual agreement with a Starbucks store.
Schultz said only 3,400 of Starbucks’ 250,000 U.S. employees chose to join a union.
“About 1% of partners chose a different approach, as is their right under the law,” he said.
The organizing effort was controversial. Earlier this month, a federal labor judge ruled that the company violated labor laws “hundreds of times” during a union organizing campaign in Buffalo, New York. The company is attractive. Federal judges also forced Starbucks to reinstate labor organizers which he shot.
Schultz, who led Starbucks from 1987 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2017, returned as interim CEO last April. New Starbucks CEO Lazman Narasimhan told The Associated Press that he also thinks Starbucks works better without unions.
“I continue to believe that a direct relationship with our partners is the best way forward,” Narasimhan said.