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'We're confident': Heine Brothers' employees aim to vote on union recognition

Workers say they've filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election. If granted, a majority vote could make union status official.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The unionization effort by Heine Brothers' coffee shop employees is gaining steam by the day, and on Monday, it took another major step.

In front of the Federal Building in downtown Louisville, workers announced they've filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election. If they get approval, baristas from all 17 Kentuckiana stores will get to vote on whether they'd like to unionize.

A simple majority voting 'yes' would make union status official, designating them as the collective bargaining unit with which the company must negotiate.

"We're just pumped. We're excited. Everybody is ready to go and get down there and vote in person," said Aaron Bone, a barista at the Northfield location.

Employees announced their intentions to unionize back in April, citing low pay and poor working conditions. Last week, workers filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) lawsuit against the company, three weeks after the closure of the Douglass Loup location.

Workers accused Heine Brothers' of retaliating against union forming efforts, while the company said the allegations aren't true. The company said it made the decision in 2021 but didn't want to close the shop before finding a "suitable tenant for the space."

A company spokesperson said it offered all current employees of that store the opportunity to transfer to another location and a stipend to help during the transition, or to receive a severance benefit.

But Bone told WHAS 11 that workers were given very little notice.

"That store was at 100 percent, and it was one of the most vocal stores, so we definitely do not believe it was coincidental," he said. "It's all about human dignity, really."

On Monday afternoon, dozens of employees announced their intentions and said they're confident they have more than enough people on board.

"We will fight for our union, and we will win," Sabrina Lindsey said.

As for what's called a 'secret-ballot election,' Heine Brothers said it respects the workers' choice and right to organize, but it's declining their request for the union to be 'voluntarily recognized.'

In a company statement sent Monday, a spokesperson said, "Heine Brothers looks forward to cooperating with the federal government to ensure a fair and conflict free secret ballot election for an appropriate unit -- if that is what our team members desire."

Baristas are organizing in partnership with NCFO SEIU 32BJ, an established Louisville labor union.

"We're confident, yes," Secretary-Treasurer Robert Smith said. "This is their time, this is something they've fought extremely hard for. They've put so much time in."

We're told the NLRB could grant the petition within a week or so, which would put the election in place some time within the next month.

Workers only need a simple majority voting in favor, and they say they're confident they'll have much more than that.

"I can't think of a single [employee] at my store who wasn't on board for it," Bone said.

Contact reporter Isaiah Kim-Martinez at IKimMartin@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter


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