- Starbucks is “one of the best, if not the best, first job in America,” former CEO Howard Schultz said.
- Schultz made the comment in testimony before Congress Wednesday.
- Senators and employees at the hearing challenged Schultz on Starbucks’ anti-union tactics.
You can’t do better than Starbucks for a first job, the chain’s former CEO told Congress on Wednesday.
Senators asked Schultz about the chain’s treatment of unionizing employees in light of a recent court ruling that found Starbucks had illegally monitored and fired employees in New York state and complaints from employees that the company had tried to keep them from organizing.
Through about two hours of questioning, Schultz was steadfast in his claims that Starbucks has never broken the law in its handling of an ongoing labor movement at the company. He argued that the company’s stores might be the best option for first-time job seekers.
“We put our people. First, we make decisions based on our people, and we have the track record to prove it,” Schultz said. “Starbucks is probably one of the best, if not the best, first job in America.”
Schultz’s testimony largely revolved around the successes of Starbucks. He brought up stories of employees — who the company calls “partners” — that have worked toward better lives using benefits afforded to them by Starbucks.
“As I said in my opening statement, 65% of baristas are now managers,” Schultz said. He added that he had just met a worker who has been employed at Starbucks for 22 years, attributing the employee’s ability to gain US citizenship and buy a house to Starbucks.
Schultz also pointed to Starbucks’ average hourly pay of $17.50 is “higher than the minimum wage in every state in America.”
Schultz said that unions are a useful tool in America for workers who are exploited by their employers. Starbucks, he said, is a company that treats its employees fairly, offering them health benefits and stock options.
“It’s unprecedented, and that’s why Starbucks doesn’t need a union,” Schultz said.
Schultz testified at the capitol after Sen. Bernie Sanders threatened to subpoena him earlier this month.
“Under your leadership, Starbucks has repeatedly refused to bargain with any of the 7,000 workers in nearly 300 stores where workers have voted to represent themselves through union,” Sanders said. “The first group of workers to win their election have been waiting more than 460 days to reach a first contract.”
Schultz maintained the company has always negotiated in good faith with the union, adding that Starbucks is prioritizing face-to-face negotiations in union discussions.
But Wednesday’s hearing showed that some current and former Starbucks employees don’t agree with that assessment.
Jaysin Saxton, a former Starbucks barista who lost his job in August at a Starbucks in Augusta, Georgia, also spoke at the hearing.
A complaint from the National Labor Relations Board filed late last year claims Saxton’s firing was a direct result of his union activity. Other employees at the store where Saxton worked were also fired, he told the committee.
“Union busting ramped up even more after we won our election,” Saxton said. “We were constantly being watched, and managers listened into our conversations on our headsets.”
Maggie Carter, who started at a Starbucks in Jackson, Tennessee, in May 2019, told the committee that she took a job at the company partly because she believed it would offer benefits and flexible scheduling while she studied and parented her young son.
“As a lesbian, I was also drawn to Starbucks by its reputation as a progressive employer,” Carter said.
Her opinion of the company later changed after she and her colleagues decided to unionize, she said.
“Partners suddenly started getting disciplined for minor dress code violations or being five or so minutes late,” Carter said. “Every day, it felt as if there was a concerted effort to build a case against partners who showed even the smallest bit of support for the union,” she said.
Turnover among Starbucks baristas has risen during the pandemic. One-quarter of them leave their jobs within three months, the Wall Street Journal reported last year, citing company data. That figure was 10% before the pandemic.