Union representatives demonstrate to lift the ban on collective bargaining for public workers in Georgia

If Georgians want to live in a truly democratic society, then their public sector jobs should also be democratic. That was one of the messages that a coalition of union organizers, activists and elected representatives from the labor movement expressed — sometimes loudly — at a rally in Liberty Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the United Campus Workers of Georgia (UCWGA) and the Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America lobbied lawmakers to pass SB 166, a Democratic-backed bill that would benefit Georgia's 680,000 public sector workers, including employees of the University System of Georgia, would give collective bargaining rights on things like wages, health benefits and working conditions.

“We are calling on the Georgia State Legislature to do the right thing and reverse their anti-worker policies so that public workers can take back their seat at the table and legally advocate for their rights in the workplace,” said Kelsea Bond, a DSA from Atlanta co-chair said to a group of about 50 supporters just outside the state Capitol.

Georgia is one of the few states that allows state, county and local workers to join unions, but prevents unions from bargaining on their behalf.

It's no coincidence, advocates say, that the state ranks at the bottom of the nation in average salaries for government workers. According to job data from ZipRecruiter, the average government worker in the Peach State makes just $29,847 — second to last in the country.

Overall, government workers in Georgia earn about 21% less than private sector employees, “suggesting that Georgia significantly underpays its public employees compared to other states,” according to a work study report released in September by Morehouse College.

Photo credit: Ryan Zickgraf

Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), one of nine state senators supporting SB 166, called Georgia's collective bargaining ban “shameful.”

“Of course we should have collective bargaining for public employees, and we can point to places across the nation that enjoy this fundamental right to association, dignity and voice in the workplace and bargaining over their demands,” Orrock said.

Organizers of the Feb. 28 rally say House Democrats they met with about the bill were “very enthusiastic,” but it was difficult to get Republicans to respond. “We're still working on talking to Republican lawmakers about dispelling some of their views about why collective bargaining in the public sector wouldn't be a good thing,” said Heather Pincock, an associate professor at Kennesaw State University.

In his first term, Gov. Brian Kemp gave teachers and other state employees one-time cost-of-living raises of $5,000 and promised another $2,000 in 2023 at his inauguration in January. “From the classroom to the state patrol, if you have good people in “To keep jobs that are critical to the safety and well-being of our children, our communities and the state as a whole, we must be prepared to be competitive with state salaries,” Kemp said.

“It’s good, but not nearly good enough,” Pincock said. “Inflation and the cost of living continue to rise in Cobb County and the Atlanta metropolitan area, yet wages remain stagnant.”

“Our salary just doesn’t keep up,” she said.

Here's how you can get involved

  • Click here to find out the names of your state representative and senator.
  • Click here for their contact phone numbers and emails.
  • To learn more about the United Campus Workers of Georgia, the state's higher education union, Click hereand for Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America click here.