Heine Brothers’ baristas call out sick, demand better COVID-19 protection

Heine Brothers’ baristas call out sick, demand better COVID-19 protection

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - They’ve been labeled an essential business, but some baristas at Heine Brothers’ disagree and called out sick Friday, demanding the company to do more to protect them from the coronavirus.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep ourselves safe and our customers safe, but it’s just increasingly feeling reckless,” a Heine Brothers’ shift lead barista, Hannah Jones, told WAVE 3 News.

Just because customers can’t come inside Jones’ location doesn’t make her feel any safer.

“We’ve been serving over 200 people a day regularly, and that’s just through the drive through,” she said.

Jones said she’s not alone in questioning if doing the work they love is really worth the risk.

“I would venture to guess that at least half of us feel very strongly that we are just contributing to community harm,” she said.

Jones questions why in normal times people consider coffee and lattes frivolous, but now they are being considered essential. Although they’ve taken their concerns to management, she said they haven’t really been heard. Then, a barista tested positive at the Veterans Parkway store and those feelings amplified.

Jones said that’s what really kicked things into gear.

Heine Brothers’ said they learned of the positive result Wednesday, and although that employee did not come in or make contact with anyone else for weeks, they closed the store to be sanitized. It was initially set to reopen Friday, but that didn’t happen.

Jones said at least 35 baristas across all Heine Brothers’ locations called out sick Friday to emphasize their demands.

“We would like to be given the option opt into a voluntary lay off, with the understanding that we want to come back, or opt into hazard pay and some more protections,” she said. “We also asked they include us in decisions.”

Heine Brothers’ management installed plexiglass shields on all drive-thru windows, but said they cannot provide additional pay to workers due to a 40 percent drop in sales.

As far as the voluntary lay offs, the company said they’ve provided unemployment information to all workers, but didn’t say if they will hire them back once it’s all over.

“I want my company to survive this, but I want my people to too,” Jones said.

The lead barista said she has always been proud to work a company that leads the charge in doing what’s right, but the way she sees their response is uncharacteristic.

“This entire COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve been [saying], ‘Wait and see, wait and see, wait and see. We hear you, we hear you. We’re nervous too,’" Jones said. “They aren’t coming into contact with 200 people a day.”

The Heine Brothers’ baristas have an online petition they are asking everyone to sign.

If you are considered an essential worker, but still fear you may contact the virus through unsafe workplace practices, both Indiana and Kentucky leaders urge you to report it. For Indiana, go to the department of Labor’s website and file a COVID-19 related complaint. In Kentucky, you can call 1-833-597-2337.

Copyright 2020 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.