LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Baristas at Heine Brothers' Coffee are getting backpay after the Department of Labor found the Louisville-based company was violating a labor and wage law.
The coffee shop's union wrote on Twitter that its Organizing Committee "would have liked to see the company confront their mistakes without being forced by federal agencies to respect the law."
The local chapter of the National Conference of Fireman and Oilers, a division of the Service Employees International Union, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor on May 19, asking it to look at Heine Bros' tip pooling system.
The department found that store managers were partaking in tip pooling when they should not have been, and worked with the company to give baristas tips they were owed.
"None of us are really mad at our managers. It's just how it was, and it should have been done differently," Aaron Bone said, an employee at the Northfield location and also a union organizer.
Bone says his tip payment was $882 and has noticed other employees got allocations based on several factors, but mainly how many hours they worked.
Bone believes many other restaurants will realize, or be told, they have been doing the same thing.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of restaurants and a lot of places suddenly change how they do tipping, just because they might not have known they were in violation. But it’s definitely something that you should try to keep an eye on," he said.
Heine Brothers' co-founder and president Mike Mays says the company has always worked this way, allowing managers to get tips when they work on the espresso bar, but not when they do "admin" shifts.
"In July 2022, the Department of Labor notified Heine Bros that wage and hour laws were changed in 2020 and that a store manager with hiring and firing authority could no longer receive tips. Heine Bros followed the direction of the Department of Labor and has paid the agreed upon amounts under the classifications designated by the DOL for each payment for the covered periods," Mays wrote in a statement to WHAS11.
"These amounts were paid by Heine Bros and store managers were not required to return the tips that they earned for the espresso bar shifts that they worked," Mays said.
Heine Brothers' baristas start at $10 per hour but the company guarantees an additional $4 an hour on tips.
If an employee only ended up making $13 per hour with tips, the company would step in and fill the additional $1 per hour, according to an SEIU spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the coffee chain said, "No employee makes less than $14 an hour and most make more."
Bone says probably the union's highest priority right now is getting higher wages, with more guaranteed outside of tips.
"If it was just something more stable, I feel like you would have more respect for yourself," Bone said. "I think everyone in the entire city would feel better about what's going on because they don't feel intertwined in this 'guilt project.'"
Heine Brothers' has 17 locations in Kentucky and Indiana, and roughly 200 baristas. Assistant managers are able to join the union but managers are not.
In September, Heine Brothers' baristas voted to unionize. It was the largest group to vote on unionizing in Louisville in almost a decade, according to the workers' union.
Read the company's full statement:
Since our founding in 1994, Heine Bros store managers have worked both espresso bar shifts for which they received tips, and admin shifts (not on the espresso bar) where they did not receive tips. On the espresso bar shifts, they worked with their fellow barista teammates in a role where another barista would have been scheduled if the store manager was not working it.
In July 2022, the Department of Labor notified Heine Bros that wage and hour laws were changed in 2020 and that a store manager with hiring and firing authority could no longer receive tips. Heine Bros followed the direction of the Department of Labor and has paid the agreed upon amounts under the classifications designated by the DOL for each payment for the covered periods. These amounts were paid by Heine Bros and store managers were not required to return the tips that they earned for the espresso bar shifts that they worked.
Our understanding is that this could affect other retailers that have tipped employees. However, we want to be clear that Heine Bros store managers never took tips that would have otherwise gone to the baristas with whom they were working the espresso bar shift. If the store manager was not working that espresso bar shift, another barista would have been part of the team working the shift.