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National Labor Relations Board Allows Creature Comforts Union Vote

Creature Comforts employees held a rally at Little Kings in January to kick off their union drive. [Mark Taylor/file]

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

The BUG originally requested a union election back in January, when it became clear that Creature Comforts would not voluntarily recognize it. The company then filed a petition with the NLRB seeking recognition for the union, triggering 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. The company argued that some employees were actually managers and shouldn’t be allowed to join. Creature Comforts also tried to limit the union to one facility only—the newer one at Southern Mill, a renovated former denim factory in the Boulevard area—arguing that production and maintenance employees of that facility do not share a community of interest with taproom employees at its original downtown location. 

“It’s about controlling the company,” BUG organizer Joseph 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 NLRB 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 NLRB decided in favor of Creature Comforts workers on every point except one—their desire to include seasonal workers in the union. Only full-time and regular part-time workers employed as of Aug. 20 will be allowed to vote in the upcoming union election.

“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,” CEO Chris Herron said in a statement to Flagpole. “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 seven 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.”

A vote on forming the union will be coming soon, although it’s still unclear exactly when. Since so much time had passed since the original petition in January, the NLRB has asked both parties to submit new dates for when they want the election to take place. The board—which dates back to the New Deal and enforces laws related to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices—consists of five members appointed by the president for five-year terms.

“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 will ask for an election date sometime at the end of September or early October, according to Carter, but management may continue to ask for delay. Management could also appeal the NLRB’s decision, but even if they do, they can’t delay the election. Once a date is set, which should be soon, that date will almost certainly be final. [UPDATE: The election has been scheduled for Oct. 3.]

Carter said he believes that the resistance Creature Comforts management 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.”

Blake Aued contributed reporting to this article.