Starbucks' interim CEO Howard Schutz has declined a request to appear before a Senate committee seeking to question him about the coffee chain's response to an ongoing unionization campaign at the company's U.S. stores.
In declining the call from the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Shultz earned a stern rebuke from the committee's chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"Apparently, it is easier for Mr. Schultz to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions and to intimidate others who may be interested in joining a union than to answer questions from elected officials," Sanders, a Vermont Independent, said Wednesday in a statement.
The Vermont Independent sent a letter to Schultz earlier this month asking him to appear March 9 for a hearing about the unionization campaign and Starbucks' "compliance with federal labor law." The letter was signed by the committee's 10 Democrats.
At least 286 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late 2021. Starbucks doesn't support the effort, and the process has been contentious. Regional officers for the National Labor Relations Board have filed 76 complaints against the company for various issues, including failure to bargain. Starbucks, meanwhile, has filed 86 unfair labor practice charges against the union, Starbucks Workers United.
In its own letter sent to the committee on Tuesday, Starbucks noted that Schultz __ a longtime Starbucks CEO who came out of retirement last year to assume the interim CEO job __ will be transitioning out of that role at the end of March. Laxman Narasimhan, a former PepsiCo executive, will become Starbucks' new CEO on April 1. Schultz will remain on the company's board.
Seattle-based Starbucks said AJ Jones II, Starbucks' chief public affairs officer, would be better suited to discussing the unionization campaign since he has been more closely involved. The company also said it has been bargaining to reach a contract agreement at more than 200 stores that have voted to unionize.
It's unclear how the committee will proceed. In his statement Wednesday, Sanders said he intended to "hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee."
The committee has the power to subpoena Schultz, but it's not yet clear if it will use it. A message seeking comment was emailed to a committee spokesman Wednesday.