Creature Comforts union wins NLRB victory, workers to vote on union representation

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UPDATE 10/3/23: Creature Comforts workers have voted down union representation.

After seven months of hearings, the National Labor Relations Board has sided with the workers of Creature Comforts brewery and granted their petition for a union election. Production, maintenance and taproom employees of Creature Comforts who were employed as of August 20 will get to vote on whether they want to be represented by the Brewing Union of Georgia in labor negotiations on October 3.

The Brewing union originally requested a union election back in January when it became clear that Creature Comforts would not voluntarily recognize them. The company continued to ignore requests from the union to work out a deal even after they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, causing a lengthy hearings process.

While the union wanted to represent all of Creature Comforts, management fought during the hearings to whittle down the size of the union. They argued that some employees were actually managers and shouldn’t be allowed to join. They also tried to limit the union to one facility only – the newer one at Southern Mill – arguing that production and maintenance employees of that facility do not share a community of interest with taproom employees.

Brewing Union organizer Joseph Carter told APN that he thought arguments like these showed management’s ignorance of how closely their own company’s facilities are interconnected. But for the most part, Carter said that management’s various counter arguments were about limiting the union’s power by limiting its size.  

“It’s about controlling the company,“ Carter said. “They wanted a tiny unit in Southern Mill, mostly in packaging, but the union wanted to cover the whole company. If you have a unit that covers both of the warehouses [including the original Snow Tire location], you gain a lot of power.”

In the decision, essentially all of the arguments made by management were rejected for lack of evidence. Creature Comforts workers, on the other hand, were able to convincingly demonstrate to the National Labor Relations Board that the company’s two facilities are tightly connected, with materials and maintenance crews going back and forth between the two quite often. Furthermore, they demonstrated that some positions referred to as “managers” by the company do not actually have decision-making power and should rightly be allowed to join the union.

The National Labor Relations Board decided in favor of Creature Comforts workers on every point except one – their desire to include seasonal workers in the union. Only full and regular part-time workers employed as of August 20 will be allowed to vote in the upcoming union election.

Since so much time has passed since the original petition in January, the National Labor Relations Board asked both parties to submit new dates for when they want the election to take place before eventually settling on October 3.

“Originally, we proposed mid-February and the company proposed mid-March,” Carter said. “We’re well past that. We would like to have [the election] as soon as possible. The workers are ready to vote.”

The Brewing Union of Georgia asked for an election date sometime at the end of September or early October according to Carter, and it seems as though they got their wish. Management may continue to ask for delay and they could also appeal the National Labor Relation Board’s decision, but even if they do, that can’t delay the election by itself. The October 3 date will almost certainly be final.

That’s welcome news to union organizers and workers who have been waiting all year for the right to collectively bargain and for some control over the conditions of their employment. Furthermore, Carter feels that the resistance Creature Comforts has shown to unionization actually makes it more likely the union will win the election.

“It’s been a long-haul,” Carter said. “There’s been a lot of frustration but I think we have a great chance of winning. Management continues to show that they just don’t care about workers. I think we’re going to win.”

That would be huge news for the labor movement in Athens and for the brewing industry across Georgia. APN will be following this story as it progresses.

You can read the National Labor Relations Board’s decision here.

UPDATE (9/11/23): Creature Comforts has responded to the NLRB decision.

We founded Creature Comforts to build something different. At our core, we are focused on fostering human connection. For us, that includes creating an environment where anyone can discuss anything over a beer. With that in mind, we fully respect those employees who are exercising their rights and have always supported individual voices to be heard. We have all been awaiting the NLRB’s decision for 7 months, and 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. We look forward to having an opportunity to defend ourselves against the unfair labor practice claims in the future and we remain committed to ensuring that all our employees feel supported and empowered.

UDATE (9/14/23): The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled the election for October 3. The text of the article has been edited to reflect that.

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