Starbucks’ former CEO denies breaking law after Sen. Sanders accuses company of ‘union busting’


(WASHINGTON) — Starbucks’ former CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday denied breaking the law in response to sharp criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who accused the company of “the most aggressive and illegal union busting campaign in the modern history of our country.”

In response to questions from Sanders during a Senate hearing, Schultz affirmed the right of workers to choose whether to unionize and defended the company’s actions.

Starbucks “has not broken the law,” Schultz said. “Let me set the tone for this very early on.”

Schultz, who served as Starbucks CEO for over 20 years across three stints, said Starbucks has negotiated in “good faith” with employees as they’ve sought to unionize and obtain collective benefits.

More than a dozen decisions from federal officials have found that the company violated labor law in its response to a wave of union campaigns at its stores, according to the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency.

Roughly 290 of almost 9,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. have voted to unionize. However, workers have yet to sign a union contract at a single location.

Earlier this month, an administrative judge ruled that Starbucks had committed “egregious and widespread misconduct” in its effort to prevent unionization at some of its stores.

The judge, Michael A. Rosas, mandated the company reinstate several workers and Schultz read a notice to employees, among other remedies.

More than 500 formal allegations of labor law violations have been filed against Starbucks with regional offices of the NLRB, the agency said this month.

In all, 13 decisions have ordered remedies for unfair labor practices committed by Starbucks, including the reinstatement of 22 employees, the NLRB said. Some of those decisions have been appealed, the agency added.

Schultz characterized the findings against Starbucks as “allegations,” adding that the company is “confident that those allegations will be proven false.”

Workers United, the labor organization organizing Starbucks workers, said in a statement that it welcomed the Senate hearing as a venue for Schultz to face accountability for his response to the union campaign.

“We’re hopeful for change,” a Workers United spokesperson said. “We’re hopeful that this hearing moves the needle forward for baristas and workers all across the country.”

“We look forward to Howard Schultz being held accountable for his actions and being forced to answer to his unprecedented union-busting campaign under oath,” the spokesperson added.

Starbucks workers achieved an unprecedented wave of unionization at the company last year but the pace of union victories fell significantly over the course of last year.

Over the first half of 2022, the National Labor Relations Board received union election petitions from an average of 47 Starbucks stores per month; but over five months ending in November, that election rate dwindled to 11 stores per month, according to data from the NLRB.

ABC News’ Allison Pecorin contributed reporting.

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