This Wednesday, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was called upon for a Senate hearing in regard to whether the coffee company violated federal labor laws.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee targeted Schultz after the company recently became the national face of union busting in early 2022. The most prominent story is the firing of seven employees at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, after the workers began a campaign to unionize. After high tension, a case was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which resulted in Starbucks losing its court appeal and ordering to reinstate the “Memphis Seven” (the company was not fined for this action).
It is said that this hearing is a push for committees to hold billionaires and large corporations accountable for illegal business practices. The panel hearing consisted of 11 Democrats and 10 Repluciations led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who immediately pressed the CEO about whether he was “aware that NLRB judges have ruled that Starbucks violated federal labor law over 100 times over the past 18 months, far more than any other company in America.”
To which Schulz responds multiple times that Starbucks is not guilty of breaking any laws.
During the second part of the hearing, witnesses and Starbucks workers described their experiences of how the company maintained unconducive working conditions not limited to the scheduling system, cutting hours, low wages, and expensive benefits, which forced many workers to work second jobs. Some even testified that the company required employees to be on call at all times after leaving the perimeters. This led to over 500 unfair labor charges being reported to the NLRB and nearly 200 union workers being fired.
Earlier this month, the NLRB found “hundreds of unfair labor practices…and widespread misconduct demonstrating a general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights.” While Starbucks is on the hot seat, many companies alike have been found to violate these rights by denying benefits, utilizing intimidation tactics, and holding “captive audience” meetings to discourage union formation.
The purpose of this hearing is to show workers who are thinking about unionizing that they have powerful allies like Sanders to back them up and to encourage the nation’s approval of unions more favorably.