Bernie Sanders hints at subpoena for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
Reuters (L) | Getty Images (R)

Sen. Bernie Sanders hinted that lawmakers could subpoena Howard Schultz to compel the outgoing Starbucks CEO to testify in front of a Senate panel about how the coffee chain is handling its baristas’ push to unionize.

“One way or another, he will be there,” Sanders told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But as you know, that’s not the decision of the chairman alone.”

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Sanders, who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he intends to hold Schultz and Starbucks accountable and looks forward to seeing Schultz appear before the committee.

A representative for Starbucks did not immediately respond to CNBC”s request for comment.

Schultz declined an invitation from 11 senators to appear at the March 9 hearing, Reuters first reported Tuesday evening. Starbucks’ general counsel, Zabrina Jenkins, wrote in the letter that Schultz is leaving his role in March, so it makes more sense for another senior leader with ongoing responsibilities to testify instead.

The company has instead put chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II forward as the best person to address the committee.

Schultz owns 1.9% of Starbucks’ shares, according to Factset. The company’s market value stands at about $124.6 billion.

Nearly 290 company-owned Starbucks cafes in the U.S. have voted to unionize as of Monday, according to a tally from the National Labor Relations Board. Baristas’ union push began under Schultz’s predecessor — and one-time successor — Kevin Johnson. When Johnson resigned in the spring of 2021, Schultz returned to the helm and pushed back more aggressively against workers’ attempts to unionize.

To date, regional offices of the federal labor board have issued 76 complaints against Starbucks, alleging illegal labor practices. Most recently, the NLRB ruled Monday that Starbucks illegally fired two workers and broke other labor laws during a union drive at two Philadelphia locations in 2019, prior to the current union boom sweeping across the company.

The allegations of union busting have damaged Starbucks’ reputation as a progressive employer, although they don’t appear to have hurt the company’s U.S. sales. The chain reported U.S. same-store sales growth of 10% for its latest quarter, boosted by strong demand over the holiday season.

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