Workers at a trio of well-regarded pizzerias in Austin, Texas, did something on Thursday rarely seen in local, stand-alone restaurants: They informed their managers that they intend to form a union.
The workers from Via 313, an Austin-born restaurant group that dishes up Detroit-style pizza, have been organizing with Restaurant Workers United, an independent labor group formed during the pandemic. The union says it submitted petitions to the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday seeking to hold elections at the restaurant group’s three sit-down locations in the city.
Some restaurant workers are unionized in the U.S., but they often work in eateries attached to hotels or other larger, unionized properties, such as airports. And while Starbucks baristas are organizing stores around the country, the Austin effort involves a different crop of food-service workers: bartenders, servers, hosts, cooks and dishwashers.
“I know how rare this is. I know the risk that it is. I could definitely get blacklisted,” said Ashley Glover, a bartender at Via 313’s store in the city’s Oak Hill neighborhood who has worked in the industry for six years. “But I think it’s a really beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Restaurant Workers United said it had rounded up a “supermajority” of support at each of the three restaurants, and that it intends to push for higher wages, paid leave and reliable scheduling, among other priorities. If the labor board schedules elections, the union would need to win a majority of votes cast in order to prevail.
Via 313 could not immediately be reached for comment on the organizing effort. Founded in Austin by the brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt in 2011, Via 313 may be going national in the years to come. The Utah-based restaurant investment fund Savory took a stake in the company in 2020 with an eye toward expansion beyond Texas.
I have connections to this action and I can add two things. First, it took the company less than 24 hours to start captive audience union-busting meetings. This always surprises workers and it shouldn’t. All the company has to do is write a big check to the unionbusting law firms and they come ready with a full package of tactics that are easily adjusted to any industry. Second, while this is being played up as an “independent” union, in fact the United Auto Workers is ultimately behind this. This only matters in an inside baseball way–the labor movement’s divisions between those who don’t like the established unions and the desire to see “independent” unions combined with the one-off victory at Amazon by an independent organization to move to the front of the agenda for a lot of labor people. I don’t think it matters either way. Whatever works. But in fact, it is a UAW baby, at least in terms of money and advice and organizing help.
In any case, this is good stuff and I will keep following it. More here from an Austin perspective.