By Arshreet Singh and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday refused to back down on calls to make Starbucks Corp interim Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, who is stepping down this month, testify at a hearing on the company’s compliance with labor law.
Starbucks reiterated on Thursday it has no plans to send Schultz to a U.S. Senate committee hearing set for March 9.
In response, Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s chairman, said he was “shocked and deeply concerned that Howard Schultz would continue to defy a request made by a majority of members on the Senate HELP Committee.”
He said a vote will go ahead on March 8 on whether to issue a subpoena for Schultz to appear.
“Let’s be clear. Howard Schultz is the founder of Starbucks, he is the CEO of Starbucks, he is the spokesperson of Starbucks, and he will continue to be on the Board of Directors at Starbucks well into the future,” Sanders said in a letter Thursday to Starbucks.
“Mr. Schultz has made it clear that he is the driving force of labor policy at Starbucks,” the Democrat senator said.
Starbucks noted Schultz is stepping down as CEO later this month and said he was not the right witness.
It maintained that its Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer AJ Jones was best positioned to address the workforce matters raised by members of the committee.
The company has also offered to send May Jensen, vice president for partner and labor relations, and Zabrina Jenkins, acting executive vice president and general counsel.
Democrat lawmakers accuse Starbucks of not engaging in fair negotiations with employees who are joining labor unions. The coffee company has rejected the claims and said it values its workers’ right to participate in legal union-related endeavors.
The company said in its letter on Thursday it “has an unmatched history as a model employer.”
Employees at more than 280 out of its roughly 9,000 company-operated U.S. locations have voted to join a labor union since 2021. The union is seeking better pay and benefits, improved health and safety conditions and protections against unfair dismissal and discipline.
The Senate committee will also vote on authorizing the panel to investigate labor law violations by major corporations.
(Reporting by Arshreet Singh and David Shepardson; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Sonali Paul)