A Starbucks in Augusta, Georgia, became the first location in the state to vote in favor of unionizing, joining more than 240 locations across the country with employees who have either filed petitions to unionize or voted to form a union.
On Thursday evening, the Starbucks at 228 Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway voted 26-5 in favor of unionizing, according to the Augusta Chronicle. Lead organizer Jaysin Saxton told the Chronicle the goal for unionizing the coffee shop’s employees is to begin bargaining for “better pay, better benefits, better training, better working conditions.”
Petitions have also been filed at two Starbucks locations in Atlanta and one location in the city of Covington, Georgia, just east of Atlanta. Earlier this month, a Starbucks in Knoxville, Tennessee, voted 8-7 in favor of unionizing. Last week, a Starbucks on Maple Street in New Orleans filed for union certification, becoming the first location in Louisiana to move toward unionizing its employees.
Unionization efforts by Starbucks employees began in earnest in December 2021, when two Buffalo, New York, locations voted to unionize as Starbucks Workers United, the labor union representing the Seattle-based coffee chain’s employees. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administers and oversees the election process, which also requires each location to unionize individually. The Starbucks corporation is pushing to require shops within the same geographic area to vote together. The NLRB has thus far denied this request.
So, why is the first Starbucks to unionize in Georgia significant? Georgia is both a right-to-work and an at-will state, which favors businesses over the workforce, often discouraging employees from unionizing by making the process difficult. The former, a result of the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act, prohibits unions from collecting mandatory dues as a condition for employment, while the latter allows Georgia employers to fire people without employment contracts. Georgia is one of 27 right-to-work states in the country, with just over 4.1 percent of its workers unionized.
Unions continue to be rare in the hospitality industry, and rarer still in the South and right-to-work states like Georgia. Nationally, only 1.2 percent of restaurant and food service employees are members of a union. But union membership in the hospitality industry is slowly increasing in Georgia (and throughout the South) due to labor unions like Workers United, Service Employees International Union, and UNITE HERE, which includes members in Georgia as part of the Local 23 chapter.
While hospitality unions have found some success organizing in Georgia over the last decade, mostly within hotels, stadiums, and airport concessions with a large number of employees, antiquated federal labor laws continue to make efforts to organize independent bars and restaurants with smaller staffs and few financial resources challenging.