Starbucks has long borne a reputation, fair or not, as a liberal company with progressive values and even “woke” policies. But on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the only good friends the company and its famous co-founder could find to defend them from charges of union-busting were Republicans.
Under threat of subpoena by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Howard Schultz, the company’s recently departed CEO, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in a hearing titled “No Company Is Above the Law: The Need to End Illegal Union Busting at Starbucks.”
Sanders, the committee’s chair, led progressive lawmakers in a line of tough questioning about how the giant coffee chain has fought a union organizing campaign and racked up a litany of charges of labor law violations since 2021. As Schultz was buffeted by Democrats, it was Republicans who tried to throw him a life raft.
Some of them insisted they weren’t defending Starbucks, although it certainly sounded like they were.
“I am not here to defend Starbucks. I have my own questions about the alleged misconduct, and the law should be followed and upheld,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the committee’s ranking member, in his opening statement. “But let’s not kid ourselves. These hearings are anything but a fair and impartial proceeding.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) laments a Starbucks “witch hunt” at Senate HELP Committee hearing with former CEO Howard Schultz:
"I don't want to be part of any witch hunt that vilifies any American business." pic.twitter.com/2NfNmqMA3k
— The Recount (@therecount) March 29, 2023
Cassidy said the title of the hearing amounted to “slander,” even though a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge recently ruled that Starbucks had committed “egregious and widespread” labor law violations.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said it was unusual for someone of his political stripe to be coming to the aid of Schultz.
“I recognize at the outset there’s some irony to a non-coffee-drinking Mormon conservative defending a Democrat candidate for president in perhaps one of the most liberal companies in America,” the Republican said. (Schultz was long rumored as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in past election cycles, and in 2020 he flirted with running as an independent.)
But Romney said it was unfair for Democrats to haul Schultz in before the cameras.
“I also think it’s somewhat rich that you’re being grilled by people who have never had an opportunity to create a single job,” Romney said. “Yet they believe they know better how to do so and what’s best for the American economy.”
Some Republicans insisted they weren’t defending liberal Starbucks, although it certainly sounded like they were.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the hearing was unjustified, even though the NLRB’s general counsel has brought more than 80 complaints against the company alleging it violated workers’ rights.
“I don’t want to be part of any witch hunt that vilifies any American business,” Paul said.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) said he wasn’t defending Starbucks either.
“I’m not trying to defend your company, because politically we’re on totally different ends of the spectrum, and so the irony of this kind of hearing is funny,” Mullin told Schultz.
But then Mullin said Sanders and Democrats were unfairly attacking Starbucks and its co-founder.
“It seems like unions today, all they want to do is fight with… employers,” Mullin said. “That friction causes a very volatile and tough workplace.”
He went on to say he took offense at Sanders “pointing out that all CEOs are corrupt because they’re millionaires,” which Sanders had never said.
“If you make a lot of money, you’re corrupt,” Mullin said, attributing that viewpoint to Sanders.
Mullin wrapped up his time by applauding Schultz for his success as a businessman.
Sanders wasn’t impressed with Mullin’s speech.
“You’ve made more misstatements in a short amount of time than I’ve ever heard,” the committee chair told him.