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Starbucks halts stock buybacks as Howard Schultz returns as CEO

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz returns to lead the company as more stores vote to unionize.

Longtime Starbucks leader Howard Schultz returned to the company as interim CEO Monday. Among his first actions was suspending Starbucks' $20 million share buyback program to invest more profits in employees and stores. 

"My first work is to spend lots of time with partners. To lift up voices. To see everything that is already in play to help us become this kind of company. To invent. To face challenges — and for us each to be transparent with one another and become accountable for building the future of our company," Schultz wrote in a letter posted to the company website.

Starbucks shares fell 4% on the news of the buyback suspension.

The pivot in strategy comes just three weeks after Starbucks announced that Schultz would be taking over the company’s top role until it finds a permanent CEO. Starbucks announced March 16 that CEO Kevin Johnson was retiring. 

"In the weeks ahead, I will be traveling, along with our leaders, to connect with partners in our stores and manufacturing plants around the world to understand your thinking and ideas about how to build this next Starbucks," Schultz wrote.

Schultz could be feeling some heat from a growing unionization effort. Ten of the company’s 9,000 company-owned U.S. stores have voted to unionize since December. At least 181 more in 28 states have filed to hold union elections.

In his previous time with the company, the 68-year-old Schultz successfully fought attempts to unionize Starbucks’ U.S. stores and roasting plants. Starbucks has had to reinstate fired workers or pay to settle labor law violations numerous times in the early 2000s.

Travis Pittman contributed to this report.

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