Heine Brothers’ Coffee Highlands employees: Closure was anti-union

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An abrupt closure of a popular Highlands-area coffee shop has sparked claims of anti-union activity by workers.

Employees of Heine Brothers’ Coffee who have been working since April to form a union spoke Friday morning in front of the former coffee shop in Douglass Loop, questioning the unexpected development. The location closed Thursday and plans were announced to open a new Ten20 Craft Brewery on-site where Heine Brothers’ Coffee products will still be served.

Employees were “blindsided” by the “outrageous and highly suspicious” permanent closure, according to a Thursday night statement from the Heine Brothers’ Workers Union, which called for supporters to meet at the location at 2200 Bardstown Road – more than 30 people showed up for the rally and press conference on the active Highlands corner, with Charles Booker, the Louisville Democrat running against US Sen. Rand Paul in November’s election, among them.

Tyler Glick, who manages communications for Heine Brothers’ Coffee, said in a statement that the company is transitioning to drive-thru coffee shops and the Douglass Loop location was the last location outside downtown that does not have a drive-thru. The move to close the Bardstown Road spot had been in the works since last year, but the company “didn’t want to close before finding a suitable tenant for the space,” he said.

“Heine Brothers is offering all current employees of the Douglass Loop store the opportunity to transfer to another store and a stipend to help during the transition, or to receive a severity benefit,” he added.

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A representative with the Heine Brothers’ Workers Union said at the press conference that employees were not given notice of termination, but were given five days to decide if they wanted to relocate to a different coffee shop or take a severity package.

Other protesters at the rally said they were notified six hours before the store was supposed to close to shut down operations. After which they had to ask customers in the store to leave the store effective immediately.

Baristas from 15 Louisville-area Heine Brothers’ Coffee locations announced in April that they planned to unionize, holding a press conference downtown at the time that was attended by state Rep. Keturah Herron. Baristas then said that workers deserve better wages, paid sick days, affordable health care, better staffing requirements and improved COVID-19 safety measures.

Those who’d worked to form the union who gathered Friday morning outside of the former Heine Brothers’ Coffee – a popular and well-known location from the Louisville-based company, which was founded in 1994 and currently has 18 stores in the region – signaled their frustrations with the company.

Ben Bridgman said the store’s owner Mike Mays “cares more about profits and breaking up one of the stronger proponents of the union stores than he does about the current customers that he’s supposed to be serving.”

In their Friday statement ahead of the press conference, the union said owner Mike Mays and the company “project a progressive image” but have abandoned workers. Employees were given no notice before the closure Thursday, the group’s statement said, accusing the company of “anti-union activity” as the Highlands shop had several “outspoken and visible union supporters.”

“Heine Brothers’ Coffee has jeopardized our livelihoods for the coming weeks, they have closed a community space in Douglass Loop, and they have shown us once again that we are just replaceable cogs in their corporate machine,” the union said. “… We call on Heine Brothers’ and Mike Mays to do better, and know that we will continue to exercise our right to organize our Heine Brothers’ brothers, sisters, and siblings.”

A statement provided by Glick on behalf of Mays said the closure is part of a push by the company to open more locations with drive-thrus, noting Heine Brothers’ Coffee had “a great run” at the Bardstown Road location.

“We’re excited to turn the Douglass Loop space over to our friends at TEN20, a terrific local company that will be a great fit for the neighborhood, and we’re delighted that Heine Brothers coffee will be available at TEN20’s planned coffee bar, ” Mays wrote.

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Oliver Thomas, another union organizer and barista with Heine Brothers’ Coffee, asked if there was a need for more alcohol on Bardstown Road.

“We have a lot of customers here that really rely on this being a neutral, safe space for all communities to be and it’s not going to be that anymore,” they said at Friday’s event. “It’s heartbreaking.”

A spokesperson for Ten20 directed all requests for comment to Heine Brothers’ Coffee, saying the brewery “has no involvement in internal communications or employment matters at Heine Brothers’.” The new taproom is expected to open in the fall, following renovations on the property.

Ten20 has two other Locations in Louisville – a brewery that opened in 2020 in Butchertown, and a taproom in Anchorage that opened the following year. The new location will rotate beer offerings, according to a Thursday news release, with offerings that include “brews made specifically for the Highlands rotation.”

Lucas Aulbach can be reached at laulbach@courier-journal.com, 502-582-4649 or on Twitter @LucasAulbach.

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