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Heine Brothers’ workers across Louisville area vote in favor of unionizing

Peter Hyle, an employee of Heine Brothers' Coffee who supports unionizing, spoke at a July press conference about the importance of his group's efforts.
Peter Hyle, an employee of Heine Brothers' Coffee who supports unionizing, spoke at a July press conference about the importance of his group's efforts.

Workers at Heine Brothers’ Coffee locations across Louisville have unionized.

In an election held Thursday at the company’s Portland headquarters, employees voted in favor of organizing with the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, a local affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Full-time and part-time baristas, assistant managers and roasters across the 17 corporate-owned stores and at the headquarters were among the 221 eligible voters, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which held the election.

While a majority of voters supported the union, an exact tally was not released as of Friday afternoon.

Workers in favor of unionizing celebrated the result late Thursday, according to a video the organizing campaign posted on Twitter.

At a Friday press conference at the NFCO’s Hazelwood headquarters, a group of Heine Bros. workers spoke about why they wanted to unionize.

Gami Ray, who works at the company’s Middletown location, said the effort began for many employees before organizers went public in April

“We got a chance to meet each other at this hall and realize that we have a lot of issues among stores, and people started to really understand, personally, why the union would help them, and what responsibility they had to others in forming our union,” Ray said.

The organizing workers say they are seeking higher pay, better working conditions and other changes through unionizing.

“I support my family on these wages, we support ourselves on these wages, and we should not have to rely on the tips of our customers to be able to live and make it by,” said Jasmin Bush, who works at Heine Bros.

In an emailed statement, Heine Bros. co-founder and president Mike Mays said the company would honor a fair outcome.

“While we hoped for a different result because we do not believe third party representation is needed at Heine Brothers, we have said that we will respect the outcome of a fair and legal election, and we fully intend to do so,” Mays said.

However, Mays also said the company was “reviewing all the events leading up to the vote” to check for any possible pro-union coercion.

A Heine Bros. spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment regarding whether the company had reason to believe there was coercion before the election.

When asked about Mays’ comments during the press conference, the workers denied that the campaign has been coercive.

“We have repeatedly been informed by [SEIU workers] that we should maybe consider being more aggressive with our tactics, because we’re trying to be so peaceful with it,” said Aaron Bone, who works at the company’s Northfield store.

The unionizing effort has led to hostility between the company and its workers. The NFCO currently has six active union-busting charges against Heine Bros. filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

All of the Louisville-area chain’s employees who were eligible to vote are now represented by the NCFO. In a press release, a Service Employees International Union representative said the workers would now seek to negotiate a new contract with their employer.

The chain is one of several local coffee shops whose employees are organizing. Workers at two Louisville Starbucks stores have voted in favor of unionizing since May. A third Starbucks in Bon Air concluded its election in August, but its outcome is being contested following a narrow win in favor of the union.

Staff at the local chain Sunergos Coffee also recently announced efforts to organize.

This story was updated.

Heine Brothers’ is a sponsor of Louisville Public Media.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.