Wisconsin Starbucks workers optimistic as labor spotlight put on coffee chain giant

NOW: Wisconsin Starbucks workers optimistic as labor spotlight put on coffee chain giant

OAK CREEK, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Starbucks' former CEO Howard Schultz faced off against senators on Capitol Hill over alleged union-busting practices as employee efforts to unionize at the coffee chain's locations across the country and in Wisconsin continue to grow.

Schultz appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, March 29.

"Are you aware that NLRB judges have ruled that Starbucks violated federal labor law over 100 times during the past 18 months, far more than any corporation in America?" Senator Bernie Sanders asked Schultz.

"Sir, Starbucks Coffee company unequivocally, let me set the tone for this very early on, has not broken the law," Schultz replied.

Along with denying union-busting efforts, Schultz touted the coffee chain's competitive wages and benefits.

"According to AON, one of the most respected HR consultancies in the country, this is their voice, not ours, there is literally no company, no company in our competitive set of retail that offers higher value benefits than Starbucks in the United States," Schultz told the committee.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin sits on the committee.

"Despite having organized months and months ago, there's not a contract yet and there have not been good-faith negotiations," Baldwin said of Starbucks locations in Wisconsin that voted to unionize but have been left in limbo.

Baldwin hopes the public grilling on Capitol Hill will lead to Starbucks engaging in serious discussions with stores that have voted to unionize.

"They want to be treated as equals across the bargaining table, but just have not been given that opportunity," Baldwin said.

That includes the Starbucks on South Howell in Oak Creek, which was the first to successfully vote to unionize in the state.

Sydney LeBarron-Fahl is a shift supervisor at the Starbucks in Oak Creek and helped lead the efforts to vote to unionize at the location.

"We have had two bargaining sessions set up that have been canceled by the Starbucks lawyers so we're just waiting," shift supervisor Sydney LeBarron-Fahl told CBS 58. "It's a waiting game right now."

Since the Oak Creek location voted to unionize, other locations have followed suit. There are now a total of five locations in Wisconsin that have successfully voted to unionize. Other locations attempted to do so as well but those efforts ended in votes against unionizing or withdrawn petitions.

LeBarron-Fahl said she and others believe the attention brought to the issue with the hearing in the Senate will help forge a path forward for them and other workers.

"I think just having more people know about the importance of the union and the good fight that we've been fighting is incredible," LeBarron-Fahl said. "So I'm very optimistic."

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