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Howell Mill Road Starbucks Unionizes, Becoming the First in Atlanta

On Monday, June 6, employees of the Starbucks at the District at Howell Mill voted 10-1 in favor of unionizing

A Starbucks sign looks down on two pedestrians.
Starbucks Sign
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for over 12 years.

A Starbucks on Howell Mill Road becomes the first location of the Seattle-based coffee chain to unionize in the city of Atlanta.

On Monday, June 6, non-management employees of the Starbucks at the District at Howell Mill and I-75 voted 10-1 in favor of unionizing, an effort that began back in January. The vote comes just six weeks after a Starbucks in Augusta, Georgia, became the first location in the state to unionize, joining more than 240 Starbucks across the U.S. with employees who have filed petitions to begin the unionizing process or voted to form a union in order to fight for better pay and other benefits.

Petitions have also been filed at the Ansley Mall Starbucks in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood and at a location in the city of Covington, Georgia, just east of Atlanta.

In response to the ongoing unionizing, Starbucks corporate is promising to raise wages for employees, which will likely not apply to unionized shops. Some union organizers say this is a veiled threat by the company to discourage employees from proceeding with a vote.

Voting is overseen and administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and requires locations to unionize individually. Starbucks corporation is pushing the NLRB to require shops within the same geographic area to vote collectively. The NLRB has so far denied the request.

Eater reached out Monday afternoon to Atlanta Starbucks Workers United and union organizers at the Howell Mill Starbucks for comment on the vote and the status of the petition for the Ansley Mall location.

Nationwide unionization by Starbucks employees first began in December 2021, when two shops in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize as Starbucks Workers United, the labor union representing employees of the coffee giant.

Despite prohibitive state laws and the historically anti-union stance taken by many in the South, a number of locations throughout the region have joined the fight to unionize employees, including in New Orleans, Durham, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, and in Texas at locations in Dallas and Austin. Several locations throughout Florida have already unionized or are in the petitioning stage of the process.

Georgia is both a right-to-work and an at-will state, meaning the laws favor businesses over workers, limiting their ability to organize and collectively leverage for better wages and benefits with their employers. These laws often discourage employees from forming a union by making the process cumbersome and difficult. Just over 4.8 percent of Georgia’s workforce is unionized.

Right-to-work states are a result of the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act. A portion of the act prohibits unions from requiring people to join or collecting mandatory dues as a condition of employment under the collective bargaining agreement with a company. Georgia is one of 27 right-to-work states in the country, which also includes Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas.

Making unionization more challenging, at-will states like Georgia lacking exceptions to the law allow employers to fire a person without an employment contract and without cause, as long as the company isn’t discriminating against the employee. A collective bargaining agreement between union workers and their employer may include an exemption from at-will employment.