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Louisville Sunergos, Starbucks employees vote in favor of unionizing

A yellow and black Sunergos Coffee sign next to a short white building and mostly-empty parking lot. A red-brick apartment building is in the background.
Jacob Munoz
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LPM
The Sunergos in Deer Park is one of five locations where company workers are now unionized following Wednesday's election.

Workers at Sunergos Coffee and another Starbucks location formed Louisville’s latest retail unions Wednesday.

Sunergos employees across the company’s five city locations voted 30-14 in favor of unionizing, according to Service Employees International Union representatives.

Highlands Starbucks workers voted 14-4 , according to Workers United, becoming the Seattle-based chain’s fourth Louisville-area store to form a union in the past year.

Margot Mutter, a barista at that Starbucks, encouraged more people to organize.

“It’s such an energizing time for workers here in Louisville. I hope more people see this growing labor movement and take steps to organize their own workplace,” Mutter said, according to a press release following the vote.

The two elections were held Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees and administers union elections.

Sunergos success

Sunergos baristas, delivery employees and other workers are now unionized with the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, 32BJ SEIU, a local union chapter that also represents the Louisville chain Heine Brothers’ Coffee’s baristas and workers.

The employees announced their organizing push late last August, and a month later filed their bid with the NLRB after Sunergos leadership chose not to voluntarily recognize their union.

011123_SunergosUnionGroup_by Jacob Munoz
Jacob Munoz
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LPM
Sunergos workers celebrated their union victory on Jan. 11, 2023, at the local Service Employees International Union chapter's headquarters.

Clove Harrington, who works at the Sunergos on Preston Street, said union efforts began last June and were inspired by workers at Heine Brothers.

They added the union aims to negotiate for higher base pay and more transparency within the company.

“Workers in the past have been asking for the same things we’re asking for now, and now we have the avenue to do that,” Harrington said.

Sunergos representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Starbucks workers' momentum 

Starbucks workers at the chain’s store on Baxter Avenue announced their plans in November, after three other Louisville-area locations successfully unionized.

In a press release following the election Wednesday, shift supervisor Tamara Bell said the result was “a long time coming.”

“We’re going to keep fighting for fairness at work. Big corporations cannot keep doing and saying whatever they want while stepping all over hard working people. We deserve peace of mind like anyone else,” Bell said.

011123_StarbucksBaxterAveUnion_Courtesy Workers United
Courtesy of Workers United
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Employees at the Starbucks on Baxter Avenue became the company's fourth Louisville-area store to unionize.

When asked to comment on the union victory, a Starbucks representative named Abbey replied with the company’s standard response.

“We are listening and learning from the partners in these stores as we always do across the country. 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,” the statement said.

Organizing efforts continue

The election results come after a year in which several Louisville retail and white-collar workers unionized, particularly in workplaces not historically known for organizing.

Starbucks and Heine Brothers’ workers who were successful are still in the process of seeking contracts. In the past two months, Starbucks workers in the Louisville area and nationwide went on strike multiple times, alleging the company refused to properly bargain with unionized employees.

Half Price Books employees on Hurstbourne Parkway also successfully unionized last year, and Trader Joe’s workers at the Shelbyville Road Plaza are currently organizing.

Bekah Jarboe, who works at Sunergos on Woodlawn Avenue, said the desire to organize has taken hold across the city.

“I’ve talked to a lot of other people, not even just in the coffee industry, but in different service jobs where they’re all very excited about the possibility of actually having rights as workers, and better wages and better hours in general,” Jarboe said.

Sunergos and Heine Brothers’ workers were recently issued back pay following a Department of Labor investigation into how company managers were included in tip pools.

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