WASHINGTON — Starbucks is lobbying Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee he chairs ahead of a vote expected next week to name interim CEO Howard Schultz as part of of an investigation on labor law.
“Respectfully, Howard Schultz is not the appropriate witness for the hearing,” Zabrina Jenkins, Starbucks interim executive vice president and general counsel, wrote in the statement. letterwhich was addressed to Sanders, ranking member Bill Cassidy, R-La., and the rest of the HELP Committee.
Jenkins said Schultz «took over as interim CEO nine months after the union-related issues arose and has been focused on Starbucks’ reinvention plan ever since.» She said that he «will step down as the interim CEO of the company this month.»
Sanders, who built his national profile as a pro-labor populist, is trying to investigate dozens of complaints that Starbucks violated federal labor law and other unfair labor practice allegations against the company under Schultz’s leadership. Starbucks has defended its actions, including filing counterclaims against unions.
Sanders quickly denied the request, responding in a letter that “the Senate HELP Committee invited Howard Schultz to testify, not a subordinate, because he is the man who designed and continues to make employment decisions at Starbucks.”
The company asked that others testify in its place. Jenkins volunteered herself, as well as AJ Jones II, executive vice president and chief communications officer, and May Jensen, vice president of labor and partner relations.
Sanders told NBC News this week that he expects to hold a committee vote next week on Schultz’s subpoena and expects him to testify on March 15.
“Look, the end result here is not complicated. You have a billionaire named Mr. Schultz, who is the head of a profitable multinational corporation, who apparently thinks he doesn’t have to pay attention to the law,» Sanders said, citing citations against him by the National Labor Relations Board. . “That is not what should happen in the United States. We should all have a justice system, whether you are a billionaire or anyone else. And unfortunately, we don’t have that right now. So I look forward to having Mr. Schultz before the committee to answer questions about why he believes he may be breaking federal law.»
A subpoena requires the support of a majority in the committee, in which Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage over Republicans. Cassidy said that she will not support the subpoena.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Sanders said. “I think we are strong among Democrats. And I hope we get the support of the Republicans as well.»
Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.