This story has been updated with a statement from Starbucks.
Starbucks employees at an Augusta location voted on Thursday to unionize, becoming the first in Georgia to do so.
"The key goals we are going for is better pay, better benefits, better training, better working conditions all around," said Jaysin Saxton, the lead organizer for the store. "We all love working for Starbucks, but we just want it to be better."
The store at 228 Robert C Daniel Jr. Parkway had 37 eligible voters and they voted 26-5 to unionize. The ballots were counted by a representative of the National Labor Relations Board after the poll closed at 5 p.m., following two days of voting. Representatives of the union and Starbucks stood by during the count.
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Representatives of Starbucks at the election on Thursday declined to comment.
“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country," said Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges in a statement provided to the Augusta Chronicle on Friday. "From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed. We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process.”
Saxton said he has worked at the Augusta location for three years. He even met his wife at the coffee shop. When they had a child, though, he found the 6-8 weeks of parental leave too short. The training was too short, also, he felt, and the wages too low.
In January, Saxton sent a message to Workers United over Twitter and started discussing unionization with coworkers. Workers United is the union organizing Starbucks employees across the country. Later, local workers filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a formal union election on March 10.
Across the country, workers at 247 Starbucks stores have filed to hold elections on whether or not to unionize, according to a tracker from the pro-union nonprofit media outlet More Perfect Union.
While two stores in Atlanta had filed before Augusta, disputes about how many stores would have to vote in that area held up those elections, according to Chris Baumann, Southern region director for Workers United. Employees at a Starbucks in Covington also filed on April 15.
"This is really a partner-led movement," Baumann said, rereferring to Starbucks' employees.
Baumann said his region had seen workers at 25 outlets file for an election, but only two such elections so far have been held — one where workers voted for the union in Tennessee, 8-7, and one where they rejected unionization in Florida.
"The anti-union fight has been really tough here in the South," Baumann said.
The Augusta victory was decisive, even with ballots set aside by the NLRB administrator and despite opposition from Starbucks.
"(Starbucks opposition has) basically been a constant presence of like, district manager, regional manager, our new store manager," Saxton said. "It's been trying to get us to say that our previous manager was inefficient and that we'd be losing more than we'd be getting. Of course, it didn't work."
Now that the union has won, Saxton said he is excited to begin bargaining for a contract with Starbucks.
"I want to make this a better place for my child and for the people I work with, because they're my family as well," he said.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Augusta Starbucks becomes first Georgia store to unionize