‘A choice for the greater good’: Students work to unionize Detroit-style pizzeria Via 313

Morgan Severson, News Reporter

Employees at three Austin Via 313 locations, including one in North Campus, announced Thursday that they filed to unionize for better wages and to improve working conditions in Austin’s service industry as a whole. 

“Your entire wage is dependent on customers and the business flow,” said Henry Epperson, an employee at the Detroit-style pizza chain. “The reason we’re doing this is because we want to make the service industry a better place and we know that it has to start somewhere.” 

On Sunday, Via 313 employees held a rally at the Guadalupe Street restaurant to showcase community support for the union. Epperson, a history and sociology senior, said he started working at Via 313 last November, but efforts to unionize started before he began working there. Instead of joining an existing union organization, Epperson said Via 313 employees created a new union named Restaurant Workers United with the hopes of other restaurant employees in Austin joining the union as well.  

Via 313 workers join a growing trend of workplaces in Austin unionizing, specifically in the service industry where a West Campus Starbucks recently unionized

This past January, four Via 313 employees were suspended after petitioning for sick pay following a COVID-19 outbreak among staff. Those employees were later reinstated after employees and community members protested the action. The suspension emphasized not only the need for a union but the need for its secrecy until a majority of employees joined the union, said Epperson.  

“I would imagine (Via 313 management is) going to be pretty retaliatory,” Epperson said. “We’re much more organized, and we’re definitely a lot stronger now. It’ll definitely be nerve-racking … but our strength is in our numbers.”  

Ben Mulick, a Middle Eastern studies senior who works at Via 313, said he wanted to unionize because of the protection it provides for workers. Mulick said one of the reasons he decided to join the Via 313 union is because of poor working conditions, such as occasions when he has worked in the back of the building without air conditioning.

“We’re hoping to achieve collective bargaining rights and definitely higher wages for many people, (while) hoping to achieve safer work conditions (and) hoping to achieve more benefits,” Mulick said. 

Public relations junior Elyanna Calle said Via 313 management cares less about its employees now than when she started working there.  

“The owners and everyone else involved start to forget about those people once they get more money, once they open more stores,” said Calle, who previously worked at The Daily Texan two years ago. “Once they partnered with the corporation, the Savory Fund, it was pretty evident that things are starting to go downhill (with) quality.”  

Calle said unionizing Via 313 is something she is passionate about because as a student with financial aid, she is able to put herself on the frontline and risk being fired while other employees don’t have that option. 

 “Even if I leave, changes that will be made from this union, benefits that are going to come to people … can change people’s lives, and they can help any future employee at Via 313,” Calle said. “It’s really a choice for the greater good.”