Schultz defends Starbucks’ tough union stance

Schultz defends Starbucks’ tough union stance

Schultz defends Starbucks’ tough union stance

Longtime Starbucks leader Howard Schultz defended the coffee chain’s confrontational approach to unionization on March 29, while insisting it had not violated U.S. labor law in countering the campaign.

The hearing, which got contentious at some points, was convened by progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, focusing on what the independent from Vermont called “illegal union busting.”

In his testimony, Schultz said he understood that workers have the right to unionize. But he argued that management-led efforts to persuade employees otherwise were also protected.

“I have the right and the company has a right to have a preference, and our preference is to maintain a direct line with partners,” Schultz told the panel.

The company has seen about 300 stores vote in favor of Starbucks Workers United following an initial successful campaign in Buffalo, New York in late 2021.

But the hearing featured a former Starbucks employee who testified that he was fired for union activism.

Sanders depicted the coffee chain as an “egregious” corporate villain against its workers, pointing to numerous complaints from staff that were confirmed as labor law violations by officials at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“The fundamental issue we are confronting today is whether we have a system of justice that applies to all or whether billionaires and large corporations can break the law with impunity,” he said.

Starbucks is fighting the complaints and challenging adverse rulings, characterizing the findings as allegations.

Schultz, who is still on the Starbucks board after stepping down as interim CEO this month, said he was unaware of cases where workers were fired or relocated to other stores because of union activity.

“These are allegations and Starbucks has not broken the law,” said Schultz.

But Schultz acknowledged the company had left out unionized shops from a pay increase announced in May amid the burgeoning campaign, and other recently announced benefits at non-union stores such as the potential to receive customer tips digitally.