Howard Schultz draws laughs from workers after taking offence to union busting charge

Starbucks has been found guilty by NLRB judges for threatening pro-union workers, but is appealing

John Bowden
Washington DC
Wednesday 29 March 2023 17:26 BST
Howard Schultz claims Starbucks has never broken federal labour law

Howard Schultz drew an audible reaction from the attendees of a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on Wednesday when he denied being a union-buster.

It was a comical moment that broke up an otherwise very contentious hearing that was punctuated by Republicans aiming insults at Democrats while Mr Schultz battled charges that he and his company mistreat workers who seek to unionise their stores.

The exchange occurred during the question period of Sen Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who noted that constituents in his state had shed blood for the labour protections now taken for granted by much of America.

Mr Schultz responded to charges from not only Mr Casey but other Democrats on the panel, incuding Sen Bernie Sanders, who characterised his return to the company as a campaign against the growing Starbucks union drive.

“I take offence for you categorising Starbucks as a union-buster, when this is simply not true,” Mr Schultz said.

The comment drew immediate laughter from attendees in the room, including a cadre of pro-union Starbucks workers who attended the hearing in person on Capitol Hill.

It also was the target of ridicule from pro-union voices on Twitter, including the AFL-CIO.

“Howard, give up the act and stop lying under oath,” tweeted the national union’s account.

Mr Schultz and his company have been accused of violating federal law in dozens of instances, including illegal retaliation and firings targeting pro-union workers as well as working explicitly to extend benefits to non-union stores while not extending those same benefits to stores with active union drives.

Starbucks is also accused of refusing to negotiate in good faith with workers pursuing unionisation.

The company and its CEO have denied these charges, which are still under litigation, but some including a charge of illegally threatening pro-union workers have already been decided by NLRB judges and are now under appeal by the company.

The massive coffee chain is an outlier in terms of NLRB cases and is currently facing a comparatively largely number of accusations regarding labour violations than other companies.

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