Sanders Tells Starbucks CEO to Stop Union Busting and “Obey the Law”


Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz speaks during Starbucks annual shareholders meeting March 18, 2015, in Seattle, Washington.

As former CEO Howard Schultz takes the helm once again at Starbucks, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has demanded that the company “do the right thing” and allow employees to exercise their legal right to organize.

On Tuesday, Sanders wrote a letter to Schultz demanding that the company step out of the way of unionizing workers. He emphasized that Starbucks workers are afforded the right to unionize under the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that the company has already been found by federal officials to be violating the law in its union busting attempts.

“As you prepare to head back into your former role as Starbucks CEO, I am writing to you with a simple request,” Sanders said. “Please respect the Constitution of the United States and do not illegally hamper the efforts of your employees to unionize.”

The union recently announced that workers at over 150 locations have filed to unionize so far, a figure that grows nearly every day. Workers at the company’s hometown of Seattle voted to join a union on Tuesday afternoon with a unanimous vote of 9 to 0. They joined six stores that have already voted to form a union and there are quite a few more elections ongoing or coming up in the next weeks and months.

The company has fought hard against the union campaign, allegedly illegally firing at least one pro-union worker, cutting employee hours to disrupt organizing efforts and shutting down stores that are in the process of unionizing.

Workers say that the company has brought Schultz back as interim CEO in order to crack down even further on the unionizing effort. They have asked lawmakers to increase public pressure on the company to hurt its public image and discourage further anti-union moves.

The union, Starbucks Workers United, has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing the company of over 20 counts of illegal union busting. On Monday, the list of unfair labor practices charges grew as the union filed allegations that the company illegally threatened New York pro-union workers with loss of income and benefits or termination at locations in Long Island and Manhattan.

Sanders expressed frustration over the company’s potentially illegal anti-union tactics. “Instead of obeying the law, I am deeply concerned that Starbucks has engaged in a massive union busting campaign led by outgoing CEO Kevin Johnson. Workers have been fired for ‘the crime’ of being pro-union,” Sanders wrote.

The Vermont lawmaker pointed out that the company has plenty of resources at its disposal to meet workers’ demands for better pay and working conditions. Starbucks raked in $29.1 billion in profits last year, paid Johnson $20 million in compensation in 2021, and has pledged to spend $20 billion on stock buybacks and dividends over the next three years.

“I am under the impression that Starbucks respects its ‘partners’ and supposedly adheres to progressive values. If that’s the case, it should behave lawfully and respect the decisions of its employees as to whether or not they want to join a union,” the lawmaker continued. “This is a pivotal moment for Starbucks. As you return to the company, it is time to do the right thing: End the union busting and obey the law.”

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