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Two Louisville service industry unions seek contracts amid conflict with employers

The Trader Joe's store in Louisville's Shelbyville Road Plaza.
Jacob Munoz
The Trader Joe's store in Louisville's Shelbyville Road Plaza.

An independent federal agency recommended overruling Trader Joe’s objections to its Louisville store’s union election. And union members at Sunergos Coffee argue the company isn’t receptive to bargaining proposals.

In a report issued Friday, a hearing officer with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private-sector union elections, said that Trader Joe’s did not adequately support claims it made against the Louisville workers’ union.

The company alleged that members and representatives of the union interfered with a free and fair election by harassing and intimidating other workers during the election, which took place across two days in late January.

Louisville workers voted 48-36 in favor of unionizing, but Trader Joe’s filed objections less than a week later. Representatives for the company and the union argued their cases during a contentious March hearing, which saw several people associated with the store testify.

Eric Taylor, the NLRB’s Region 9 director, will make a final ruling on the issue. Trader Joe’s has until June 12 to submit an appeal to the agency.

Representatives and attorneys for the company did not respond by deadline to requests for comment on the result.

Connor Hovey is a union member at the Louisville store and was one of several employees the company alleged interfered with the election. He said in a text message Friday that he had “an extreme feeling of validation and vindication” and said he and other workers were looking forward to beginning collective bargaining.

“We are excited to get this official certification and start the bargaining process in good faith with our company. We’re ready to have the conversations, and have been for a while,” Hovey wrote.

Seth Goldstein is an attorney with Julien, Mirer, Singla, and Goldstein PLLC, which represents the national Trader Joe’s United group. He criticized the company’s objections, which argued he committed “unlawful conduct” in the election, as a “bad faith” effort to stall the union’s progress.

Sunergos bargaining frustrations

The Sunergos in Deer Park is one of five locations where company workers are now unionized following Wednesday's election.
Jacob Munoz
The Sunergos in Deer Park is one of five locations where company workers are now unionized following Wednesday's election.

Hundreds of service industry workers have unionized across Louisville in the past year, including at Louisville chains Heine Brothers’ Coffee last September and Sunergos Coffee in January.

While Heine Brothers and its workers’ union agreed to a contract in March, members of the Sunergos union’s bargaining committee say they believe their company is resisting negotiations.

Clove Harrington is a Sunergos barista and committee member. They said the company has been dismissive of the union since bargaining sessions began, and that management struck down an early proposal promoting the two sides work together.

“They're not understanding of what we're trying to do and already dismissing our efforts to make our workplace better, which really confuses me, because you would think that we have the same goal in mind, which is to make Sunergos a better place to work and a better company overall,” Harrington said.

Bekah Ryherd is a committee member and said she’s worked at Sunergos for about six years. She said the union is pushing for changes like improving workplace safety, alleging that some workers have dealt with faulty air conditioners.

Ryherd added that the union also wants to raise wages, which they believe would help workers who make less in tips during slow shifts.

“I personally am living with my partner, so we split a lot of costs that we have like our housing and everything. So I work full time, though, and I still live paycheck to paycheck,” Ryherd said.

Sunergos did not respond by deadline to a request for comment on the negotiations or workers’ allegations.

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

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