Photo: Screenshot of Howard Schultz testifying before Senate. Credit: HELP Committee.
Howard Schultz, board member and former CEO of Starbucks, testified March 29 before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on what Starbucks workers describe as the company’s “scorched earth” union busting campaign. Schultz finally agreed to testify one day before a scheduled subpoena vote against him.
Since the middle of August 2021, Starbucks workers across the country have launched a massive union movement to fight for their rights at the hundred billion dollar company. Over the course of some 450 days, more than 360 stores have filed to unionize, winning 83% of elections. Some 7,500+ workers have joined the growing labor movement fighting for a fair contract against billion dollar corporations. The labor movement is experiencing a period of revitalization and growth after decades of attacks by capitalism and the government. From the Amazon Labor Union, to teacher’s unions across the country, union rail workers and southern service workers, the working class is demanding rights, respect and power.
At the hearing, Howard Schultz was questioned on the hundreds of labor violations that have been filed and investigated by the National Labor Relations Board. Starbucks has been found to have illegally violated labor laws over 100 times across the country thus far. Over 600 unfair labor practice violation complaints have been filed since the start of the union campaign. Schultz repeatedly and vigorously denied that Starbucks has broken the law, refused to follow an NLRB judge’s court order to take responsibility, lied about bargaining in good faith and said unequivocally that Starbucks is not union busting. Democrats repeatedly pressed Schultz over the labor violations, though could only “ask” and “urge” Starbucks to behave differently. Democrats said that Schultz should engage with the union, with the justification that “collective bargaining is a pillar of the free-market economy.” Republicans took a different approach, with Senator Rand Paul claiming that Starbucks is “proof that capitalism works” and that “capitalism and profit are sustainable.” Republicans attacked the credibility of the NLRB, claiming that the institution is biased and needs to be investigated for being pro-union.
As the hearing concluded, one thing is clear. Only the labor movement and workers themselves will force Starbucks to meet their demands. Democrats and Republicans both are unwilling to take serious action against Starbucks, and have shown their bipartisan opposition to labor as recently as the breaking of the strike by unionized rail workers. The labor movement cannot rely on institutions of capitalism to secure their rights and livelihoods, and must rely on each other in building working class power and solidarity to set up a system in our own interests. Unions, like Starbucks Workers United and more, have the ability to drastically change our working conditions and lives under this crushing capitalist system through collective action. The labor movement’s real power comes from us workers organizing together, building the collective power we need by demanding, not asking, for our rights.