Starbucks fires union organiser days after Howard Schultz testified in Senate about union-busting campaign

Former CEO denied in his Senate testimony that Starbucks is engaging in illegal union-busting activities

Abe Asher
Wednesday 05 April 2023 01:00 BST
Bernie Sanders grills Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz over 'vicious anti union efforts'

Starbucks has fired a longtime union organiser in Buffalo just two days after former CEO Howard Schultz appeared before a Senate committee to deny that the corporation is engaging in illegal union-busting activity.

Lexi Rizzo, who worked for seven years as a shift supervisor at one of the first Starbucks stores to successfully unionise, was one of three union organisers fired in another apparent crackdown on labour activity at the coffee giant. Ms Rizzo has served on the union’s organising committee since its outset in August 2021.

Ms Rizzo said after her firing that she was “heartbroken.”

“I’m absolutely heartbroken,” Ms Rizzo, who was dismissed on March 31, told CNBC. “It wasn’t just a job for me. It was like my family. It was like losing everything. I’ve been there since I was 17 years old. It’s like my entire support system, and I think that they knew that.”

Ms Rizzo said that she was purportedly fired for tardiness, a reason union organisers say is often given for the arbitrary dismissal of organisers. Ms Rizzo was allegedly late to work four times, including two times when she was late by one minute. The union, Starbucks Workers United, says the firing is retaliation for Ms Rizzo’s organising activities.

If it is true that Starbucks fired Ms Rizzo because of her organising, it would not be the first time the company has violated labour law by firing an organiser. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge last month ordered Starbucks to rehire and give backpay to seven other improperly fired workers in Buffalo and re-open a unionised store in the area that it had closed.

Corporate conduct like that has won Starbucks the ire of leading progressives like Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who called Mr Schultz, the three-time CEO and face of the company, to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) about the company’s anti-union tactics.

Mr Schultz was grilled by Democrats on the committee including Mr Sanders and Sen Ed Markey of Massachusetts, but recieved much more sympathetic treatment from Republicans like Sen Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen Mitt Romney of Utah who heralded Starbucks’ commercial success.

Mr Schultz, for his part, denied the union-busting allegations drew the ire of workers by claiming that “Starbucks has not broken the law” despite its numerous labour law violations.

But despite the negative press generated by Mr Schultz’s appearance in the Senate and the company’s union-busting tactics more broadly, some observers believe that the tactics have worked to slow the union’s momentum with the rate at which stores have filed for union elections having slowed since an initial burst last spring.

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