- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Sen. Bernard Sanders is facing accusations of using his official position to benefit organized labor in its effort to unionize Starbucks.

GOP lawmakers accused Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent, of using his chairmanship of the Senate Labor Committee to target the coffee giant. The ill feelings broke into the open during a hearing about Starbucks‘ alleged union-busting tactics with ex-CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday.

Mr. Sanders was chastised for cutting off Mr. Schultz‘s testimony because of “time constraints.” GOP lawmakers were particularly irritated when Mr. Sanders stopped Mr. Schultz midsentence during a story about how paid labor organizers tried to infiltrate Starbucks to try to form a union.

“Considering the chairman doesn’t want to hear any of that information, I believe he’s pretty biased in his opinion already,” Sen. Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma Republican, said. “What hypocrisy, what bias. You are [the] chair of the [Senate] Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; we shouldn’t have a biased approach.”

Mr. Mullin went on to say Mr. Sanders was a “hypocrite” for having a negative view of millionaires and billionaires, despite having become wealthy himself through lucrative book deals.

Mr. Sanders took umbrage at the attack, saying the hearing was not about his view of corporate America.

“What this hearing is about is whether workers have the constitutional right to form a union,” Mr. Sanders said. “The evidence is overwhelming, not from me, but from the National Labor Relations Board time after time after time … Starbucks has broken the law and has prevented workers from joining unions to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits.”

Still, Republicans say Mr. Sanders has weaponized the labor committee to pressure Starbucks to bow to unionization efforts.

“What’s the purpose of the hearing in Bernie Sanders’ mind?” Sen. Ted Budd, North Carolina Republican, said. “It’s picking winners and losers.”

Mr. Sanders received significant support from organized labor in both of his unsuccessful White House bids. Since taking the helm of the labor committee this year, Mr. Sanders has set his sights on Starbucks.

Congressional attention comes as Starbucks is mired in a nationwide labor battle after more than 250 of its locations — out of 1,500 — voted to unionize. While Starbucks is in negotiations, the company has also been accused of using union-busting tactics to prevent more stores from organizing.

“Just a few weeks ago an administrative law judge found Starbucks guilty of ‘egregious and widespread misconduct,’” Mr. Sanders said. “This judge found that Starbucks illegally retaliated against employees for unionizing, promised improved pay and benefits if workers rejected the union, conducted illegal surveillance of pro-union workers … relocated union organizers to new stores, and overstaffed stores ahead of union votes.”

The National Labor Relations Board has levied 80 complaints against Starbucks since 2021, more than any other company, for unfair labor practices.

Last month, the NLRB ruled that the company illegally fired two workers for trying to unionize its stores in Philadelphia. Starbucks is pushing back on the decision, denying it engaged in unfair labor practices. The company is weighing challenging the decision in federal court.

Starbucks has not broken the law,” Mr. Schultz stressed repeatedly during his testimony.

Mr. Schultz noted that Starbucks pays its employees $15 an hour, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The company also provides health insurance and free college tuition to employees who work more than 20 hours a week.

“Every day we wake up thinking about how we can put our people first, put them in a position to win,” Mr. Schultz said.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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