As national labor actions grab headlines, union activity in Atlanta is heating up. Notably, next week Emory University graduate students will discover the outcome of their historic union election that took place in mid-October. Here is Atlanta Civic Circle’s labor round-up for a local perspective on the latest worker actions.
But first, we’re recapping a historic October for workers nationally: Just this past week, the United Auto Workers reached tentative agreements with the Big Three car manufacturers – Ford Motor Co., Stellantis, and General Motors – after six weeks of escalating strikes. Over 40,000 of the UAW’s almost 150,000 members joined the walkouts to win record pay increases, an end to divisive wage tiers, and improved retirement benefits.
A lot happened in the entertainment industry as well last month. Writer’s Guild of America members finally ratified a three-year contract with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers after almost five contentious months on strike. Their actor brethren are still fighting for better contracts with the Hollywood studios as they mark their 111th day on strike. Meanwhile, Marvel Studio’s visual effects workers unanimously voted to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in September – making it the first VFX unit to do so.
Back in metro Atlanta, here’s a breakdown of significant labor rights actions over the last few weeks.
UAW Workers Win Tentative Contracts
Taking a far more aggressive stance than previous UAW leaders, union president Sean Fain added new plant walkouts every week to the strike that kicked off Sept. 15 – until deciding he was satisfied with the contract offers from the Big Three automakers.
Dubbed Stand Up Strikes, the walkouts targeted the carmakers’ most profitable plants. That meant they mostly took place in Michigan and other midwestern states, where the auto factories and parts manufacturers have the greatest density. The strikes did spill over into the South, including Morrow, just south of Atlanta, where Stellantis has a parts manufacturing and distribution plant.
If ratified by the rank-and-file workers, the UAW’s new five-year contracts with the three carmakers will run through April 2028. Workers at a Ford plant in Michigan started voting on the tentative contract on Wednesday, and the UAW’s Ford workers will keep voting through mid-November. Contract votes for GM and Stellantis are expected to start very soon.
The tentative agreements all have similar structures, with nearly identical pay raises, retirement benefits, worker protections, and job security guarantees.
The Stellantis deal, for example, grants a 25% increase in base wages, plus cost-of-living increases – a major sticking point. The UAW fought hard to regain the cost-of-living raises, which it had sacrificed when the Big Three were on the verge of bankruptcy after the Great Recession hit in 2008. The proposed contract also restores pension and other retirement benefits to pre-Great Recession levels. Notably, it protects workers’ right to strike over any plant closures that Stellantis may announce.
“Once again, we have achieved what just weeks ago we were told was impossible,” said UAW President Shawn Fain, in an Oct. 28 statement. “ Going into these negotiations, the company wanted to cut 5,000 jobs across Stellantis. Our Stand Up Strike changed that equation. Not only did we not lose those 5,000 jobs, we turned it all the way around. By the end of this agreement, Stellantis will be adding 5,000 jobs. We truly are saving the American dream.”
Waffle House Workers Push for Better Labor Protections
Waffle House employees from Georgia and the Carolinas held a rally at a downtown Atlanta store in late September to demand better workplace safety and higher wages. Employees at the 100 Piedmont Avenue store delivered a petition to Waffle House, which is headquartered in Norcross, demanding safety improvements, a $25 minimum wage for all employees and an end to mandatory meal deductions from their pay.
Workplace safety is a big issue, they say, because they risk injuries, burns, and dangerous customers.
Viral social media videos that make light of Waffle House staff fending off hostile customers have increased the safety risks, Gerald Green, a cook at the downtown Atlanta store, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “My customers sometimes will show up trying to provoke me into a fight, because they think we’re all MMA fighters or something,” he said. “We’re just people trying to do our job. That’s why we’re demanding 24-hour security.”
Green and other Waffle House workers shared concerns about the lack of security measures in their stores. They also said they receive minimal first aid training.
Waffle House responded to the workers’ petition action by bumping up the pay for servers. But instead of increasing minimum pay to $25, as the workers petitioned for, management added a commission system, where pay increases are based on the number of transactions a server does per shift.
The workers delivered the petition with support from the Union of Southern Service Workers. They say they’re open to follow-up actions.
Perimeter Mall Starbucks To Hold Union Vote
Workers at the Perimeter Mall Starbucks located at 4400 Ashford Dunwoody Road filed for a union election in early October to join Starbucks Workers United. Fourteen workers are eligible to vote in the election that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has scheduled for late November.
A Starbucks in Jonesboro was the latest Georgia store to unionize on Oct. 11. Workers at the Starbucks, located at 6564 Tara Boulevard, voted by a whopping 18-1 to join Starbucks United.
Paragon Systems Security Guards File for Election
Nineteen security guards working for Paragon Systems at a South Fulton warehouse filed for a union election to join the International Union, Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA). on October 25. Paragon provides security services to government agencies. The officers filing for election are employed under a Paragon contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. The NLRB has not yet issued a date for the election.