Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Could Face Subpoena To Testify Before Congress, Bernie Sanders Says


A Senate Committee will vote whether to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify about alleged efforts to block employee unionization efforts, after the company denied senators’ request for the outgoing CEO—who has increasingly become the face of anti-labor—to appear voluntarily.

Key Facts

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will vote March 8 to subpoena Schultz to testify in a wide-ranging hearing about the state of union organization efforts, collective bargaining and working conditions, Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Wednesday in a statement.

The committee will also vote whether to open an investigation into violations of labor laws by major organizations.

The subpoena, which is likely to be approved by the Democrat-controlled committee, comes after the company declined a February 14 invitation from the 11 Democratic senators who sit on the committee for Schultz to testify in a March 9 hearing.

Instead, the company offered for a lower-level executive, vice president and chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II to testify, citing Schultz’s upcoming departure from the company on April 1.

Sanders said the committee was left with “no choice, but to subpoena” Schultz, accusing him of denying repeated meeting and document requests and skirting congressional oversight attempts.

Starbucks called the upcoming subpoena a “disappointing development” and said the company is “optimistic” that it can work with the committee to find “an appropriate resolution,” spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a statement to CNBC.

Forbes Valuation

We estimate Schultz to be worth $3.7 billion.

Key Background

Schultz, who helped grow the company from its start in Seattle to the largest coffee chain in the world, returned for a second time to his role as Starbucks CEO on an interim basis in 2021, just five months before the first store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize. Employees behind the effort cited underpayment, a lack of training and generally poor treatment by company leadership—problems workers said were magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Schultz has publicly opposed the unionization, claiming the company is better-positioned to negotiate with employees—which it refers to as “partners”—without the presence of union representatives. The company has faced hundreds of complaints of unfair labor practices from the union and in some cases, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that it illegally fired employees involved in the unionization efforts. Starbucks has also filed complaints against the union that accuse it of intimidating workers who are not involved in the unionization efforts.

Crucial Quote

“It’s my belief that the efforts of unionization in America are in many ways a manifestation of a much bigger problem,” Schultz told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in a February interview. “There is a macro issue here that is much, much bigger than Starbucks.”

Surprising Fact

Schultz weighed a run for president on the independent ticket in 2020, but ultimately dropped out of the race, citing concerns his presence in the race could split the Democratic vote and facilitate the re-election of Former President Donald Trump.

Big Number

282. That’s the number of Starbucks stores whose unionization efforts have been certified by the National Labor Relations Board, of approximately 9,300 stores nationwide. Fifty-six stores voted against unionization efforts.

Further Reading

Starbucks’ New CEO: Here’s What To Know About Laxman Narasimhan (Forbes)

Howard Schultz’s Third Run As Starbucks CEO Brews Up Succession Questions (Forbes)