Starbucks' Howard Schultz agrees to testify before Senate committee amid unionization campaign

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 18: Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks during Starbucks annual shareholders meeting March 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. Schultz announced a 2-for-1 stock split, the sixth in the company's history, during the meeti

Howard Schultz has agreed to appear before a U.S. Senate committee that is examining Starbucks' actions amid an ongoing unionization campaign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday that Schultz has agreed to testify before the committee on March 29.

Sanders had been asking Schultz to testify for several weeks, but Schultz had previously refused, saying the company's chief public affairs officer would be better equipped to discuss the company's labor record. But the committee disagreed and had scheduled a Wednesday vote to subpoena Schultz in an effort to force him to testify.

"I look forward to hearing from Mr. Schultz as to when he intends to end his illegal anti-union activities and begin signing fair first contracts with the unions," Sanders said Tuesday in a statement.

In a letter to the committee, Starbucks said it looks forward to "productive dialogue" with the committee.

"We will endeavor to provide a deeper understanding of our culture and priorities, including our industry leading benefits offerings and our long-standing commitment to support the shared success of our more than 450,000 global partners," Starbucks’ Chief Counsel Zabrina Jenkins wrote.


NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 19: Activists participate in an event dubbed the Un-Birthday Party and picket line for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on July 19, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

RELATED: Labor judge: Starbucks violated worker rights in union fight

At least 290 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late 2021. Workers are asking for better pay, more consistent schedules and safer stores, among other things. Starbucks and the union have not yet reached a contract agreement at any of those stores.

The company opposes unionization, saying it already provides industry-leading benefits and its stores function better when it works directly with its employees.

The effort has been contentious. Starbucks Workers United, the union organizing workers, has filed 509 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of firing union organizers, spying on workers and taking other actions to hinder the union campaign. The company has filed 102 charges against the union and says it's failing to bargain in good faith.


A Starbucks Coffee shop is seen in the background as people gather at Westlake Park during the "Fight Starbucks' Union Busting" rally and march in Seattle, Washington on April 23, 2022. (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

RELATED: Starbucks workers plan 3-day walkout at 100 US stores as union effort continues

Last week, a federal labor judge found that the company violated U.S. labor laws "hundreds of times" during the unionization campaign in Buffalo, New York. The judge ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven fired workers and required Schultz to read or be present at a reading of employee rights and distribute a recording of the reading to all of Starbucks' U.S. employees.

Schultz is a longtime Starbucks CEO who built the company from a small Seattle chain into a global coffee giant. He came out of retirement last year to assume the interim CEO job after Starbucks' previous CEO retired. Laxman Narasimhan, a former PepsiCo executive, will become Starbucks’ new CEO on April 1, but Schultz plans to remain on the company’s board.