Mar 1, 2023 - Economy

Bernie Sanders moves to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds /AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he is moving to subpoena Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz to testify about the company's "lack of compliance with labor laws."

Why it matters: The Starbucks unionization effort has become one of the most high-profile labor battles in the country, and while hundreds of stores have voted to unionize, they've so far been unable to land a first contract.

  • Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, said the committee will vote to subpoena Schultz next week.
  • Starbucks has aggressively tried to fend off unionization.
  • The National Labor Relations Board has lodged 77 complaints against the company since around 2019 for unfair practices, like illegally firing workers or threatening and intimidating them. That appears to be the most complaints filed by the board against a company in recent history.

Schultz declined to appear before Sanders' committee last month. The company offered to send a lower ranking executive to appear in his place, explaining that a new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, is taking the helm in April.

  • Starbucks has said previously it isn't violating labor law and any assertions about anti-union activity are false.

Zoom out: While Schultz is slated to step down from the position in April, he's known and high-profile name for Sanders to target to bring attention to one of his central issues.

What they're saying: "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," Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.

  • "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.
  • In a letter to Sanders last month, the company's general counsel emphasized it's been "a model employer" and an industry leader when it comes to compensation and benefits
  • “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. Our response to the Chairman’s initial request still stands," a Starbucks spokesperson told Axios in an email Wednesday.
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