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Louisville Starbucks workers hosts 'sip-in' as calls for labor unions continue to rise in Kentuckiana

According to the National Labor Relations Board, petitions filed by union representation has increased 56% in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Both the numbers and the eye test suggest the same trend: There's an uptick in labor unions forming within the retail industry across the U.S. and in Kentuckiana.

"It's about at least double the amount of elections that unions have won in the first half of 2022, as comparing to the first half of 2021," said University of Louisville Law Professor Ariana Levinson.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), petitions filed by union representation has increased 56% in the 2021-22 fiscal year. It also reports unfair labor practice charges have increased nearly 15%.

Levinson said Metro Louisville and southern Indiana have been no exception within a renewed movement that has gained steam out of the pandemic.

"People are modeling what they're doing on what others they know have done," she said. "With all the remote work going on, workers are really able to see that they could have more options in their workplace."

The increasing number of examples in the area is evident, as well as the prominence of younger generations leading the charge.

Two different Starbucks locations in the WHAS11 viewing area -- one on Factory Lane in the east end of Jefferson County and the other on Veterans Parkway in Clarksville, Indiana -- have voted in favor of unionizing in recent months. A third shop is pending final result verification.

Outside of Starbucks, baristas at more than a dozen Heine Brothers Coffee shop locations have organized and pushed for an election through the NLRB.

Sunergos Coffee employees announced their unionization efforts in late August. The Half Price Books store on Hurstbourne Parkway filed for election that same month.

"We were having labor shortages and product shortages -- it was a moment in which they had a little more leverage, so we're seeing them take advantage of that," Levinson said.

On Monday, workers at the Factory Lane Starbucks invited people inside to "sip" in solidarity with those leading the union effort.

Fern Potter, a shift supervisor and union organizer, said there weren't any signs or chants. Instead, they focused on simple, quiet discussions about how to show support.

"Putting your name for the order as 'solidarity' or 'union strong,' or anything along those lines," Potter said. "Get a message across to management and to our baristas that there are people in this community who are willing to support them and stand up with them."

Now comes the question: Will this rise last, and for how long?

Levinson believed it will depend on several factors, including how new contract negotiations play out, midterm elections and subsequent legislation passed, and the state of the economy.

"When the next recession hits, then workers are going to be much more reluctant to organize," she said.

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