Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has denied union busting in his most explicit public statements yet on the continuing labor conflict between unions and the coffee giant in the United States. Labor investigators have frequently determined that the company violated federal laws in its response, including wrongfully terminating employees.
Mr. Schultz was called before Congress to discuss the findings. He also "unambiguously" dismissed the allegations.
"They are allegations," Mr Schultz said, adding that the disagreements were still being resolved. While Republicans mainly avoided criticism, Democrats questioned Mr Schultz's claims that the corporation respected worker rights.
Senator Chris Murphy said that it's like when someone who has been ticketed for speeding many times says they've broken the law because every single time it is the cop who got it wrong. He mentioned that it was not a plausible argument.
The hearing in Washington came more than a year after baristas at a Buffalo Starbucks had decided to create a union. This decision has now been mirrored at more than 270 shops, representing 7,000 individuals. Starbucks has been outspoken in its opposition to the campaign, which has created a debate about inequality and the workings of capitalism and has threatened to ruin the company's reputation as a progressive employer.
Mr Schultz, who headed the company for years before returning as CEO last year, defended its tactics, claiming that the union represented a minuscule proportion of the company's more than 9,000 US stores and that the corporation had a right to convey its preference for a "direct relationship" with its employees.
He said that the corporation provided excellent advantages, such as hourly salaries in excess of $17, access to health insurance, college tuition assistance, and stock awards. He also mentioned that it is incomparable which is why they don't need a union.
Mr. Schultz, who is still on the Starbucks board of directors, subsequently asked lawmakers, "Are you aware of a union contract that provides those benefits?" Throughout the discussion, Mr. Schultz, who grew up in public housing and has explored running for president, became upset by charges that he was a harsh "billionaire." "I began from nothing," he remarked, adding that he earned his fortune, which Forbes estimates to be worth $3.7 billion. It’s unfair, he stated.
Mr Schultz was asked to explain by the democrats why the union members had yet to reach an agreement. They questioned him about why the raises and other benefits granted to non-union employees the previous year have been refused by the company.
He stated that the company has met dozens of times and was eager to negotiate with workers, but refused to bargain over video conversations because it was concerned about who was involved. Mr. Schultz said that the corporation was not required to extend benefits during negotiating and did not wish to negotiate a deal "piecemeal."
Republicans questioned if labor officials were prejudiced against the company, calling the hearing, sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders, a "smear campaign." "I am not here to defend Starbucks; I have my own questions about the alleged misbehavior, and the law should be followed and respected, but let us not fool ourselves: this is not a fair and unbiased hearing," said Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.