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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday rejected a request by Sen. Bernard Sanders to testify before the Senate Health and Labor Committee regarding the coffee chain’s response to unionization efforts.

Mr. Schultz told the committee an appearance would be inappropriate, as he was in the process of transitioning out of the CEO role at the coffeehouse giant. 

“Given the timing of the transition, his relinquishment of any operating role in the company going forward and what we understand to be the subject of the hearing, we believe another senior leader with ongoing responsibilities is best suited to address these matters,” an attorney for Starbucks informed the committee. 

Mr. Schultz, who also serves as chairman of the Starbucks board of directors, took on the role of interim CEO last year after the incumbent departed. He previously held the post from 1986 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2017. A successor is expected to take the helm as CEO in April. 

The decision to snub the procedure did not sit well with Mr. Sanders. The Vermont independent and Democrats on the Health and Labor Committee sought Mr. Shultz’s testimony over the response by Starbucks to unionize its stores. 

“Apparently, it is easier for Mr. Schultz to fire workers who are exercising their constitutional right to form unions and to intimidate others who may be interested in joining a union than to answer questions from elected officials,” said Mr. Sanders. 

Since 2021, more than 250 Starbucks locations in nearly 40 states have voted to unionize. The move has been backed by organized labor, including the Service Employees International Union.  

Starbucks has more than 1,500 stores in the U.S. 

The National Labor Relations Board has issued 75 complaints against Starbucks for unfair labor practices. This week, 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. 

Mr. Sanders said the incident in Philadelphia and other reports that the company has undermined unionization efforts were a top concern of his committee. He even hinted that the health and labor panel might subpoena Mr. Schultz and other Starbucks executives. 

“I intend to hold Mr. Schultz and Starbucks accountable for their unacceptable behavior and look forward to seeing him before our committee,” he said.

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