U.S. Senators Question Former Starbucks CEO on Unionization

Howard Schultz defended the company before a Senate committee.

March 31, 2023

This week the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on labor relations at Starbucks—probing whether the company broke any federal laws. 

Reuters reported that some senators on the committee questioned the time frame it took for Starbucks to reach contracts with its stores in Buffalo, New York, which were its first to unionize. 

In written testimony, Former CEO Schultz said that Starbucks engaged in good faith bargaining and arranged “more than 350 bargaining sessions involving more than 200 sets of negotiations—each relating to a single store—and Starbucks representatives have been physically present at more than 85 sets of negotiations.”

Schultz also said that union representatives “have improperly demanded multi-store negotiations, delayed or refused to attend meetings, and insisted on unlawful preconditions such as ‘virtual’ bargaining and participation by outside observers.” He also maintained that Starbucks has complied with the National Labor Relations Act.

During the March 29 hearing, HELP Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in his opening remarks that Starbucks “has waged the most aggressive and illegal union-busting campaign in the modern history of our country.”

Schultz defended himself against this claim, telling Sanders, "These are allegations and Starbucks has not broken the law," reported Reuters.

Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed concern about the accusations against Starbucks, highlighting the accusations of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) employees “weaponizing” the agency against employers on behalf of labor unions.

“I agree with the Chair that no one should be above the law. But let’s not kid ourselves. These hearings are anything but a fair and impartial proceeding,” said Cassidy.

In 2021, workers at a Buffalo Starbucks location voted to unionize. Since then, according to The New York Times, more than 280 of the roughly 9,300 corporate-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have unionized. In March 2023, a U.S. National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Starbucks illegally fired six employees in New York State, reported Bloomberg Law.