'Given us no choice': Bernie Sanders plans vote to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

'Given us no choice': Bernie Sanders plans vote to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday announced plans to have the committee he chairs vote next week on whether to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who so far has refused to provide testimony about the coffee chain's federal labor law violations.

Sanders (I-Vt.) and the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) last month invited Schultz to appear before the panel to discuss the company's union-busting amid a national organizing wave.

In a February letter responding to the invitation, Starbucks noted that Schultz came out of retirement to temporarily return as CEO and will soon step down; he will be replaced on April 1 by Laxman Narasimhan. The company instead offered the testimony of chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II, who has been involved with workers' efforts to unionize at hundreds of stores nationwide.

The committee is now set to vote on the Schultz subpoena during an executive session on March 8 at 10:00 am ET—after which Sanders has scheduled a hearing about workers' right to organize featuring testimony from AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry, and Teamsters president Sean O'Brien.

"While Howard Schultz is a multibillionaire who runs a very profitable multinational corporation, he must understand that he and his company are not above the law," Sanders said in a statement. "The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed over 75 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law and there have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against his company. These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers."

Sanders—who has supported Starbucks employees' organizing efforts since their first win in late 2021 and has previously called out the company's anti-union tactics in three letters to the chief executive—pointed out that "for nearly a year, I and many of my colleagues in the Senate have repeatedly asked Mr. Schultz to respect the constitutional right of workers at Starbucks to form a union and to stop violating federal labor laws. Mr. Schultz has failed to respond to those requests."

"He has denied meeting and document requests, skirted congressional oversight attempts, and refused to answer any of the serious questions we have asked. Unfortunately, Mr. Schultz has given us no choice, but to subpoena him," the senator continued. "A multibillion-dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable."

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a Wednesday statement to CNBC that "this is a disappointing development, but we will continue our dialogue with Chairman Sanders' staff and are optimistic that we'll come to an appropriate resolution."

The Associated Press reported that "if the vote passes—and it's likely it would, since Democrats are in the majority on the committee—Schultz would be required to appear before the committee on March 15."

Sanders announced the subpoena vote as Bloomberg revealed Wednesday that about four dozen white-collar Starbucks employees and managers "signed an open letter protesting the company's return-to-office mandate and its alleged union-busting," which "could also be a precursor to eventual unionization efforts" by the higher-level staffers.

The announcement and letter came a day after Sanders joined Democrats and one Republican in reintroducing the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that would boost workers' organizing rights and crack down on union-busting.

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