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- Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told Congress about his father’s work injury Wednesday.
- Schultz said the story was instructive as he built Starbucks and added benefits for its workers.
- But Sen. Ed Markey used the anecdote to argue that Starbucks should respect unionizing workers.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz opened his testimony before Congress on Wednesday by talking about his father — a decision that one Senator later seized upon.
When Schultz was a child, his father slipped on ice and broke his foot while working as a driver, he said. Afterward, Schultz’s father was dismissed from his job — a setback that affected the whole family.
That experience informed Schultz’s approach to business, including reinvesting some of Starbucks’ profits in benefits for its employees, he said. Schultz relayed the story during a hearing to discuss Starbucks’s treatment of unionizing workers before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
“We’ve done all these things because, not because of the union, because of the compassion, the empathy, and in many ways, my own story of understanding what happened to my father in trying to build the kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for,” Schultz said.
But later in the hearing, Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, invoked that story to explain Starbucks’ current struggle with workers trying to unionize and bargain for contracts.
Markey told the story of his own father, whom he said lost a finger in an accident at work. “The boss said, ‘See you next week, John, back on the job,'” Markey said. “That was before unions.”
“That is how your workers now feel,” Markey said. “They don’t want their families to have to pay the price for their children the way your father had to pay a price for his children.”
“They’re just looking to be someone who can protect themselves in the way your father could not,” he added.
Schultz responded: “You don’t understand, sir. My father was a World War II veteran, fought for this country in the South Pacific.” He also pointed to benefits that Starbucks offers all of its employees, including healthcare and college tuition reimbursement.
The exchange was one of the more impassioned ones during the roughly two-hour hearing. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and chair of the committee, persuaded Schultz to testify after threatening to subpoena him.
Schultz repeatedly said that Starbucks had not broken any laws despite an administrative judge in New York ruling this month that it had done so dozens of times at stores around Buffalo, New York, the New York Times reported.
The judge laid out remedies for the violations, including reinstating workers whom the company had fired and ordering Schultz to read or be present for the reading of a statement guaranteeing that the company would not break the law again.
Starbucks told the Times that the remedies are “inappropriate.”
Asked directly about the ruling, Schultz said the issues raised were “allegations” and that Starbucks plans to “defend ourselves.” He also said that he would not read the notice as required by the judge.