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'We deserve properly staffed stores, proper pay': Heine Brothers' Coffee employees plan to unionize

Employees are calling on the business to "live up to the progressive and inclusive image they have cultivated in Louisville over the years," according to a release.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Employees at Heine Brothers’ Coffee announced plans to unionize Friday afternoon in downtown Louisville, demanding the local chain make improvements for its workers.

A couple dozen baristas from locations across the Metro stood just outside the coffee shop on 5th and Main Street to express frustration over wages they say are as low as $9.25 an hour. They also claimed there's a lack of necessary benefits like company health insurance for all workers, no matter how tenured.

"We deserve better, and we know Heine Brothers can do better," said Aaron Bone, a barista who works at the Northfield location. "The appreciation we receive monetarily and managerially does not represent that value."

Some of the benefits they're calling for include better pay, and the following:

  • paid sick days
  • affordable healthcare
  • minimum staffing requirements
  • COVID-19 safety protections

Employees have organized and signed on to form a committee with representatives from at least 15 of the 18 locations, according to a release. Bone said they're requesting wages to start at $15 an hour.

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“I love my coworkers, and they are what keep me going on this job, but there is not a day that goes by on a shift that someone does not end up in tears," Bone said. "It should not be this way. Heine Brothers’ needs to respect us as the workers that are keeping their operation going. We deserve properly staffed stores, proper pay and benefits for the work that we are doing, and a say in the way that our stores are run."

Employees are calling on the coffee chain to "live up to the progressive and inclusive image they have cultivated in Louisville over the years." According to the release, employees have felt excluded from decision-making within the stores.

At the announcement Friday, Bone said employees are stressed and burnt out because they are understaffed.

Other workers like Noa August, who also said they make $9.25 an hour, said they have to work two to three other jobs to make ends meet.

"A livable wage, quality healthcare, benefits and basic respect in the workplace is what would make my employer inclusive and a good community partner," August said.

August Thorne said she makes $12 an hour and said she was denied health insurance during the peak of COVID because she wouldn't work more than 30 hours a week due to fears of infection.

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"Our employer is not listening to the needs of each individual store," Thorne said.

Newly-elected Louisville Representative Keturah Herron (D) and The National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (NCFO) union joined employees in support.

"They approached us, and asked for help on how they could form a union," said Secretary-Treasurer Robert Smith.

In a statement to WHAS11, a Heine Brothers' Coffee spokesperson said:

“We have been told some Heine Brothers baristas have expressed an interest in forming a union.  While we respect our employees’ right to organize, we believe that, as a locally owned and operated company, Heine Brothers is well positioned to address the ideas and concerns of our employees without the involvement of a union.  From what we have heard, union proponents are already misinforming other baristas and the public.  For instance, we understand they have claimed some Heine Brothers employees make $9 per hour, which is far less than any of our employees make.  We have always worked to keep our company and stores healthy and positive places to work, where all are treated with respect and dignity, and we remain committed to these core values.” 

A representative for NCFO said employees will send an official letter with demands to Heine Brothers by the weekend. The organizing committee said it'll continue to work to get more workers on board.

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