Former Starbucks head in the hot seat

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testified in front of the US Senate as the company faces huge criticism for union-busting tactics. So far, 293 Starbucks stores across 37 states are unionized

March 31, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Howard Schultz testifies before the US Senate

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz testified in front of the US Senate on Wednesday, March 30, under threat of subpoena regarding the company’s illegal union-busting tactics.

According to a report by Senator Bernie Sanders, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Starbucks violated labor law over 130 times across six States since workers began organizing in the fall of 2021. Sanders, who is part of leading the charge to hold Starbucks accountable in the Senate, also noted that there have been over 500 unfair labor practices charges lodged against Starbucks. On Monday, March 27, the NLRB found that Starbucks illegally withheld tips and raises from workers who were unionized or in the process of unionizing. Starbucks has also withheld key COVID-19 health benefits from union workers.

Starbucks partner Jaysin Saxton also testified before the Senate, claiming that him and his coworkers experienced Starbucks union-busting tactics first-hand. These include workers being written up for being two minutes late, being fired for reporting sexual harassment, and being threatened with losing benefits if they joined the union. 

Workers have not backed down from unionizing despite threats. So far, 293 Starbucks stores across 37 states are unionized. Only 69 stores have lost a union election.

Schultz claims to have earned billions as inequality soars

During the Senate hearing, Schultz at one point got into a heated exchange with Sanders over being called a “billionaire.” Schultz detailed his upbringing in federally-subsidized housing. “I came from nothing. I thought my entire life was based on the achievement of the American Dream.” He claimed to have earned each of the many billions of dollars he has today. 

Can anyone earn billions of dollars? Starbucks workers say no. In reality, it is the coffee growers, transporters, and brewers who produce and therefore “earn” the wealth of Starbucks. And yet these workers, even in the richest country in the world, have trouble making ends meet. As Starbucks partner Maggie Carter testified before the Senate on Wednesday, “One of the main things I hear from my partners is that ‘I can’t pay my light bill and put gas in my car.’..imagine having to ration the most important things you need to survive day in and day out.”

In an economy largely driven by service industry giants such as Starbucks, most people in the US have a hard time paying basic weekly expenses. Over 40% of tenants are rent burdened, meaning over 30% of their income is funneled directly into rent. 34 million people live in food insecure households.

And yet, the rich continue to grow richer. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs now make 400 times more than the average worker. The Gini coefficient, a measurement of inequality, has risen from 0.353 in 1974 to 0.494 in 2021. The top one percent of the United States held 27% of the nation’s wealth in 2021, a higher share than the middle 60% of households by income.