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Bernie Sanders moves to subpoena Howard Schultz

The pro-labor senator says he's tired of being ignored by the Starbucks interim CEO and wants an accounting of the chain's response to a unionization drive.
Sanders wants Schultz to account for Starbucks' labor actions. / Photo: Shutterstock

Saying he’s tired of being ignored by Howard Schultz, Sen. Bernie Sanders said he’ll seek a subpoena compelling the Starbucks CEO to answer questions before a Senate committee about the chain’s handling of a unionization effort within its ranks.

“Mr. Schultz has given us no choice but to subpoena him,” Sanders said in a statement issued by his office Wednesday. “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.”

Sanders, an independent who usually votes in line with Democratic colleagues, chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP. He said he’ll ask the committee to vote next week on whether to subpoena Schultz. Democrats hold a one-seat majority on the 21-person panel.

The committee will also be asked to greenlight an investigation by members into “major corporations’ labor law violations,” Sanders said.

Efforts to promote collective bargaining are underway in such companies as Amazon, Trader Joe’s and REI.

Schultz was invited by Sanders several weeks ago to appear voluntarily before HELP, but he declined. Sanders noted at the time that he had previously reached out to the executive at least twice for an accounting of Starbucks’ response to the unionization drive.

The effort, backed by an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has led to the organization of about 270 Starbucks cafes, with the push still underway.

After the subpoena vote, HELP will hear from several prominent union leaders, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

“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,” said Sanders, an unabashed proponent of unionization. “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.”

Sanders noted that the National Labor Relations Board, the federal watchdog of union organizing, has filed over 75 complaints accusing Starbucks of violating federal organizing rules.

Starbucks has denied any wrongdoing.

In a recent media interview, Schultz suggested that its workers are organizing because of societal and generational trends and not because of anything Starbucks is doing or not doing.

Schultz resumed the CEO’s post—the third time he’s held the post—in the midst of the organizing effort. The coffee chain has said Schultz will relinquish the title to Laxman Narasimhan on April 1.

Starbucks has not publicly responded to Sander’s subpoena announcement.

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