The employees of Creature Comforts Brewery announced to a packed crowd at Little Kings on Friday that they’re forming a union.
The Brewing Union of Georgia will represent production, maintenance and taproom employees at the brewery once fully formed and recognized by Creature Comforts. At the announcement event, organizers emphasized the positive environment at their brewery and their intention to work collaboratively with management.
“Everyone who is part of Creature believes in it. We like our jobs and really believe in the company and what it can be,” said Katie Britton, brand marketing manager at Creature Comforts. “The union is not meaning to call out Creature, it’s meaning to call them up.”
Matt Kilpatrick, warehouse specialist at the brewery, echoed these sentiments. “I’ve never had a better job than I’ve ever had at Creature. We’re here to try to preserve that unity and do something bigger and greater than ourselves.”
Before their Friday announcement at Little Kings, the Brewing Union of Georgia delivered a request that Creature Comforts management voluntarily recognize them and begin contract negotiations. If management denies their request, organizers would hold a union election at their workplace to force the issue. If it comes to this, Britton told APN that the union is confident they will succeed.
“We have a heavy majority of support,” Britton said. “We’re feeling pretty good about it.”
The desire for union representation at Creature Comforts exists because many workers there feel overburdened as the brewery continues to expand and grow more popular both in town and across the country, according to Britton.
“Many employees have taken on more and more responsibilities, and that leads to burnout and people leaving, which leads to more people taking on tasks which starts that cycle again,” Britton said. “The things we’re looking for are a clear structure around job positions, titles and roles, and having things in place to make sure people aren’t overburdened. It’s to give us a seat at the table to be able to talk about those policies with the company, instead of feeling that it’s coming just top-down.”
The Brewing Union will be a completely new and independent union not connected with any larger entity. Britton says this independence is important to them because it will help the union be more democratic and representative of the local workforce.
“We’ve heard from people who have been a part of larger unions that it feels like another company to report to, or another hierarchy,” Britton said. “We want this to be fully-democratic and give voice to every person who is a part of it. By doing something smaller and on our own, we get to control that.”
How do you start a union? Get help from the Workers Center at the Economic Justice Coalition
Creating a union completely on your own from the ground up is a daunting task.
Fortunately, the Brewing Union had assistance from many local organizations, including the United Campus Workers of Georgia and the Workers Center at the Economic Justice Coalition who Britton says was “side-by-side with us the entire process.”
A workers center is a non-profit that provides support for low-wage workers who are not otherwise organized in a union. This support can include connection to legal help and ‘know your rights’ trainings around what to do in cases of wage theft, safety issues in the workplace, discrimination or sexual harassment on the job.
In a sense, a workers center can be viewed as an informal human resources department for workers who otherwise wouldn’t have access to one.
Jami Mays, the communications director at the Economic Justice Coalition, told APN that she hopes the formation of the Brewing Union will encourage the spread of worker solidarity across the entire service industry in Athens.
“This is about more than just one company, this is more than just one union,” Mays said. “The potential exists for a culture shift in Athens around service workers.”
Mays says that the Economic Justice Coalition will continue to help workers learn their value and gain access to legal help and other resources, even if they are not connected to a union.
While organizing service workers in Athens took a big step forward with Friday’s announcement, it remains a long-term project. In the meantime, workers who are experiencing problems in their workplaces or those who would like to form a union can contact the Workers Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizers of the Brewing Union also hope worker solidarity will spread to other Athens breweries and possibly even around the state.
“We really want this to be a thing that snowballs the rest of the industry in our community,” Britton said. “The spirit this process has brought into the people around me is something I’ve never witnessed from anything else and it’s been really moving.”
Other organizations hosting the event on Friday include the Union for Southern Service Workers and the Athens-Area Democratic Socialists of America. Before the announcement, former Commissioner Mariah Parker took the stage as Linqua Franqa, performing songs from their album “Bellringer.” Parker is currently an organizer with the Union for Southern Service Workers.