As labor movements build power and momentum nationally, Georgia is feeling the energy, despite the state’s low 4.4% union membership rate.

Atlanta Civic Circle is launching a periodic roundup of local labor actions for a quick insight into what’s happening around the state. Growing union activity at Starbucks and Amazon – along with unions’ fights for better contracts with UPS, the railroads, the airlines, and, now, the Big Three carmakers, as the United Auto Workers hunker down on strike – mean Georgia workers are tapping into national labor campaigns for localized actions. 

Jonesboro Starbucks workers file for union election 

Workers at a Starbucks store in Jonesboro filed for a union election in early September. If they succeed, the store, located at 6564 Tara Boulevard, would be the sixth Georgia Starbucks to unionize, representing 24 employees. The organizers aim to join over 350 Starbucks stores that have joined Starbucks Workers United in the past two years.

“Starbucks is a completely different company now than it was 26 years ago when I started. It has lost its soul, and we just want to get the soul of the company back again,” said Logan Matthews, a Starbucks barista for 26 years who’s leading the Jonesboro store’s union campaign.

Matthews has already won one victory with Starbucks.  Two days after the Sept. 5 union filing, the store’s managers fired him, saying he didn’t put cash in the store safe at closing on July 26. Matthews denied the allegation, and Starbucks corporate reinstated him the next day. 

According to Starbucks, the Jonesboro store’s local management did not follow the company’s internal investigation procedures before terminating Matthews. Not only did Starbucks reinstate him with back pay, it also placed the local manager who fired him on leave, pending a corporate investigation.

Brewers Union of Georgia pushes toward union election 

Rank-and-file workers at Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens have won a National Labor Relations Board hearing against management that moves them closer to a union election. The NLRB has verified 73 workers as eligible to vote, settling a dispute with Creature Comforts that started in January, when the craft beer workers formed the Brewers Union of Georgia. 

Legally, no one with a management job can be included in the election unit that the NLRB certifies for a union vote. Creature Comforts disputed multiple members among the 73 names that the Brewers Union of Georgia submitted to the NLRB to certify for the union vote, alleging that they’re supervisors. The NLRB heard arguments from both sides at a hearing on Feb. 8-9. 

Now the union and Creature Comforts will each propose election dates, and the NLRB will decide when to schedule the union election. 

Downtown Dunkin’ Donuts workers strike during DragonCon

Just as DragonCon convened for the Labor Day weekend, a group of Dunkin’ Donuts workers at the 303 Peachtree Street store in Truist Plaza walked off the job on August 31, and picketed the store for five days over pay and working conditions. The strike ran through the duration of DragonCon, one of the busiest days of the year for this downtown Atlanta store. 

Before striking, the workers  had delivered an Aug. 21 demand letter to Dunkin’ management with support from the Union of Southern Service Workers and the SEIU’s Fight for 15 division. The letter specifically demanded higher wages, fair and consistent scheduling, better safety conditions and opportunities to advance. 

“I’ve worked here for over 10 years and tried to move up in this company. But I still only make $9.50 an hour,” said Melvin Philips, a Dunkin’ worker at Truist Plaza store, in an announcement. “When I asked for a raise, Dunkin’ management laughed in my face. ”

Although the group of Dunkin’ workers are demanding a voice in how their store operates, they haven’t declared any plan to move toward a union election. 

National Scope: UAW strike could have spillover effects for Georgia

The United Auto Workers’s strike against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis is so far limited to its Midwestern base, but the union has significant membership in the South. 

After Detroit’s Big Three carmakers failed to agree on a new contract, about 12,700 UAW workers walked out Sept. 15 at Ford Ranger and Bronco plants in Wayne, Michigan, a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio.

The UAW is calling for a 36% pay increase, a four-day work week, a shift back to traditional pensions, and the end of the two-tier pay system instituted in 2008 when the Big Three were facing bankruptcy.

Georgia is part of the UAW’s Region 8, which has over 40,000 members in predominantly Southern states including Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina. UAW workers have 21 locals in Georgia. 

UAW president Shawn Fain announced Sept. 18 that more plants will strike on Sept. 22 if there isn’t “serious progress” in negotiations, but Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp claims the Peach State won’t see much of an effect from the strike. 

“We just haven’t been dealing with it in Georgia, because we’re a right-to-work state,”  the Republican governor told Politico on Sept. 19, just before attending the opening of an Amazon distribution center in Savannah. He added a dig at blue states that are more pro-union: “People are fleeing their states, because they just want to go where there’s a free market and good hard work.” 

In response to Kemp’s comments, a spokesperson for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told Politico that the effects of that anti-worker stance may be felt in less obvious ways. “People want to live and work in places where they know that their leaders and laws reflect their values,” said Whitmer’s spokesperson, Stacey LaRoche.

Labor Notes

Emory University grad students: Ph.D. graduate student workers at Emory University have filed for a union election as Emory Unite! The election unit is made up of 1,722 grad students, who are now waiting for the NLRB to schedule a union election. If a majority vote to become a bargaining unit of the SEIU, they’ll become the first union of graduate student workers in Georgia. 

Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories: Workers filed for a union election on Sept. 18, and they’ll vote in October. The election unit of 82 workers includes all full and part-time route service representatives at Quest’s Tucker location. 

Corsair: All full- and part-time employees at the computer-gaming memory maker’s Duluth warehouse filed for a union election in mid-August. The NLRB greenlighted the election for the 72 employees in early September, and they’ll vote at the end of the month.

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