Workers at Athens brewery win right to organize

Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Everybody Weather American Wheat Ale.
(Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Everybody Weather American Wheat Ale. (Bob Townsend for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Workers at a hip, Athens-based craft beer company have won the right to vote on whether they should be represented by a union.

A ruling by the National Labor Relations Board largely agreed with union organizers who had filed a petition in January asking for the right to represent full- and part-time workers at the two locations of the Creature Comforts Brewing Company.

The company, founded in 2015, makes a variety of beers.

Creature Comforts has not appealed the ruling, said Chris Herron, the company chief executive.

“We fully respect those employees who are exercising their rights and have always supported individual voices to be heard,” he said in a statement. “While we do not agree with the recent ruling on the bargaining unit, we will continue to follow all the appropriate processes and rules as we move forward.”

Workers had wanted the company to voluntarily recognize the Brewery Union of Georgia and to negotiate for a contract. The company would not agree, arguing that any union representation should not include workers at both its Athens and Los Angeles facilities. The company also argued that many of the workers included in the petition were, in fact, supervisory personnel and not eligible for the union.

The NLRB sided with workers on most issues, ruling that production, maintenance and taproom employees were eligible to be part of the union. The NLRB, however, ruled that seasonally hired employees were not to be included.

The NLRB has asked both management and workers to suggest dates for an election. A vote could come within weeks.

Because of the beer company’s profile in the area, organizing efforts drew interest in the community.

Democratic State Rep. Spencer Frye, whose district includes the company location in Athens, wrote to Herron to praise the company but also support the unionization effort.

“Organized labor serves as the glue between healthy business and a prosperous community,” he wrote. “Creature Comforts is one of the crown jewels of Athens and I stand with the overwhelming majority of Creature workers who intend to unionize as the Brewing Union of Georgia.”

The nation and Georgia have seen a spate of union activity in the past several years, including high-profile efforts at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks. While a smattering of votes have validated union representation at some locations, none of those companies have yet agreed to a contract for the newly represented workers.

Still, some other efforts have been more successful.

Earlier this summer, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached a landmark, 5-year deal for its 340,000 organized workers at Sandy Springs-based UPS.

Georgia has historically had one of the lowest shares of union representation.

The state is one of 27 with “right-to-work” laws that are widely seen to make labor organizing harder. The law requires a union to represent and defend all workers within its bargaining unit, but workers represented by a union are not required to belong to the union or pay dues to the union.

Just 5.4% of Georgia’s workforce is represented by unions, compared to 11.3% nationally, according to Union Stats, which collects labor information.