While calling out his Senate colleagues over their lack of job-creating experience, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney expressed support for former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz after he was grilled by Democratic senators Wednesday over his company’s attempts to keep unions from organizing employees.
At the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accused Schultz and Starbucks of engaging in “union-busting,” calling the company’s campaign “aggressive” and “illegal.”
Employees at close to 300 Starbucks stores across the country have formed unions affiliated with labor giant Service Employees International Union. In response to the union’s campaign, the company has given extra benefits and perks to nonunion employees, and has worked to persuade workers not to unionize.
Schultz, who is still one of Starbucks’ largest shareholders, defended the company and said it had not broken the law.
Romney expressed support for Starbucks and Schultz at the hearing, while pointing out the two don’t share much in common politically.
“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,” said Romney. “That being said, I also think it’s somewhat rich that you’re being grilled by people who have never had the opportunity to create a single job, and yet they believe that they know better how to do so and what’s best for the American worker and what’s best for the American economy — what’s best for growth.”
Romney also said Democratic senators may have a “conflict of interest” on the issue because unions donate large amounts of money to their political campaigns.
Unions typically donate hundreds of millions of dollars to fund political campaigns, with most of those donations going to Democrats.
While saying Starbucks may have legitimate reasons for not wanting unions to organize, Romney said he believes workers have a legal right to unionize, and that unions are necessary to protect the rights of workers when employers “are not good employers.”
During Romney’s questioning, Schultz spoke about a Vermont Starbucks store where employees voted to form a union, but out of 21 employees only six participated in the union vote, and of those six only four voted in favor of the union.
“Since six people voted to (form) the union, of the seven stores in Vermont, this particular store has twice the level of attrition, and the majority of the people have left the store,” Schultz said. “The Vermont thing is not a proxy. The Vermont thing is exactly what’s going on around the country.”
Romney also asked Schultz about what the company does with its profits.
“Where does all that profit go? Does it go to pay you and the senior executives?” he asked.
Profits go toward infrastructure, building new stores, shareholders and compensation, Schultz said.