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Howard Schultz says Starbucks has never broken the law. A judge said the company did ‘hundreds of times’

The retail coffee giant’s chief has denied that the company has violated labour law with its anti-union campaign, weeks after a judge found ‘egregious and widespread misconduct’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 29 March 2023 16:50 BST
Howard Schultz claims Starbucks has never broken federal labour law

In testimony to a Senate committee addressing allegations of the company’s union-busting campaign, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the retail coffee giant “unequivocally” has never broken federal labour law.

“Let me say under oath, these are allegations and Starbucks has not broken the law,” he told the the committee on 29 March.

Weeks earlier, a federal labour judge ordered the company to reinstate fired workers and reopen a store after finding that the company violated labour laws “hundreds of times” during a union effort in Buffalo, New York.

The decision issued by an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board ordered Starbucks to post a 13-page notice in all its US stores listing its violations and the rights of workers.

It also ordered Mr Schultz – who was ordered to appear before the US Senate’s labour committee on 29 March – to read or be present at a reading of employees’ rights and distribute a recording of the statement to all store employees.

A 200-page decision from Judge Michael Rosas found the company engaged in “egregious and widespread misconduct” as the result of 25 unfair labour practise complaints at Buffalo-area stores from Starbucks Workers United, the union organising campaign supporting the effort.

The National Labor Relations Board has issued 83 legal complaints against the company, following 513 charges related to unfair labor practises following a months-long union drive that kicked off in Buffalo in 2021.

Starbucks Workers United has alleged more than 1,400 individual violations of federal labour law. Administrative judges have issued eight decisions that found the company responsible for 130 violations, including illegally monitoring and firing organisers, calling the police on workers, and closing stores where workers have organised, according to union organisers.

Mr Schultz himself has been at the centre of roughly 100 charges over statements he made during meetings with union members, according to the office of Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the committee.

Mr Schultz has also been accused of threatening a worker who supported a union, according to union allegations.

“We have not broken the law. We have simply tried to defend ourselves,” Mr Schultz said during the hearing on 29 March

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy pressed Mr Schultz on his insistence that Starbucks has done nothing wrong – comparing his denials of wrongdoing to a person who racked up dozens of speeding tickets but denies ever speeding – despite a mountain of NLRB rulings against the company.

“I find it hard to believe your insistence, that not withstanding this extraordinary set of decisions … that you are in fact consistently abiding by the law,” Mr Murphy said.

Starbucks worker organisers and union campaigns hailed the ruling on 1 March as a historic decision in US labour law and Starbucks workers’ months-long campaign.

“The news of this win is single-handedly the most exciting thing that’s happened in this campaign thus far,” Buffalo-area Starbucks worker Michael Sanabria said in a statement after the ruling. “Having to reinstate all of these workers, reopen the first Starbucks location closed in the name of union-busting, and most importantly, post notices in every single store across the country for the duration of the Starbucks organizing campaign is such a massive win for us, and for the labor movement as a whole.”

Senator Sanders initially sought to subpoena Mr Schultz to appear before the committee, though he later voluntarily agreed to appear then announced on 20 March that he would be stepping down as CEO nearly two weeks before initially planned.

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