Send in the Waahhmbulance, Billionaire Doesn’t Want You Calling Him a Billionaire

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz doesn't want you using the b-word around him, okay?

Send in the Waahhmbulance, Billionaire Doesn’t Want You Calling Him a Billionaire
Photo:J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

On Wednesday, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a session titled: “No Company is Above the Law: The Need to End Illegal Union Busting at Starbucks.” Succinct and clear, unlike the way Starbucks names its sizing options. Former CEO and Founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, testified in front of the committee, and based on how darn cranky that man was, I have to assume the committee spoke to him before he got his morning cup of coffee. Schultz denied any wrongdoing on behalf of Starbucks’ labor practices and managed to play the world’s tiniest violin while trying to gain sympathy for billionaires like himself.

Democratic Senator Tina Smith (MN) at one point correctly referred to Schultz, who is worth roughly $3.4 billion, as a “billionaire,” to which Schultz gave an impassioned response:

“This moniker ‘billionaire,’ let’s get at that okay?” Schultz said. “I grew up in federally subsidized housing, my parents never owned a home, I came from nothing. I thought my entire life was based on the achievement of the American dream. Yes I have billions of dollars, I earned it. No one gave it to me.”

While Schultz wasn’t called to testify specifically because he’s a billionaire, his net worth is certainly a consequence of his company’s labor practices. Because—and I’ll get to this in a moment—no billionaire “earns” their wealth. Nearly 300 Starbucks stores have voted to form unions, yet none have been recognized by the company due to its extensive union-busting campaign. Those watching the testimony were treated not only to Senator Bernie Sanders’ no bullshit, dogged interrogation of Schultz, but also Sanders’ delightful pronunciation of “Starbucks” in his iconic Brooklyn accent. And to the credit of the other Democratic senators on the committee, including Washington representative Patty Murray, they also grilled the Seattle-based CEO and huge Democratic donor, Schultz, for Starbucks’ many “alleged” labor violations.

But don’t worry, Mitt Romney, one of the richest members of the Senate overcame his political differences with Schultz to bond over their shared tax bracket and defend the CEO during the hearing. Romney joked that there was “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.”

This isn’t Schultz’s first plea for better treatment of billionaires. In 2019, Schultz suggested that “billionaire” is an offensive word and that folks should use “people of means” and “people of wealth” in its place. Every time I am reminded of this, it simply shocks me to my core—a jolt equal to one trillion shots of espresso. Now back to “earned.” If you’ve heard it once, Bernie Sanders has said it a million (billion?) times: you don’t earn your way to being a billionaire. Billionaires exploit workers’ labor and hoard wealth.

With that in mind, here are some phrases that aren’t “billionaire” to use when you want to really get to the heart of the matter: “professional hoarder,” “moneygrubber,” “wage thief,” “financial parasite,” and perhaps “individual of shameless exploitative means.”

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