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U.S. senators ask Starbucks CEO to testify at March 9 hearing

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to the media at the statekout location at the White House in Washington

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs a committee on labor issues, and 10 other members of the committee have asked Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz to testify at a March 9 hearing.

The letter released on Wednesday from Sanders, an independent, and 10 Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, said the hearing will focus on Starbucks’ compliance with federal labor law.

Starbucks Workers United has won elections at more than 260 U.S. stores and has lost about 70 elections since late 2021. The union is seeking increased pay and benefits, improved health and safety conditions and protections against unfair firings and discipline.

Starbucks said it "will continue our ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, including the chairman’s office, to offer clarifying information in reference to these issues."

Sanders, who last month took over as chair of the HELP committee, criticized Starbucks Wednesday, saying the coffee company "has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union busting."

Starbucks says it respects the right of its employees to organize and to engage in lawful union activities. The company says it has held 84 single-store contract bargaining sessions since October.

Last year, Sanders and three other senators asked Starbucks to disclose how much the coffee chain has spent on lawyers and consulting fees to counter the growing union membership.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on Congress to make it easier for workers to join a union: "I am so sick and tired of companies breaking the law by preventing workers from organizing."

In January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the percentage of workers who belong to unions edged down to an all-time low in 2022.

The union membership rate fell from 10.3% in 2021 to 10.1% in 2022, even as the number of workers in a union rose to 14.3 million, up by 273,000, or 1.9%, from 2021.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Marguerita Choy)