LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- During a rainy afternoon in late January, Sabrina Lindsey and Ben Bridgman sat in a café in downtown Louisville, discussing their mutual frustrations with their employer, Heine Brothers Coffee.
Bridgman Googled, "Union in Louisville," and the two baristas decided to drive to south Louisville to check out the local headquarters of the Service Employees International Union, the first result that popped up on Bridgman's phone.
About six months later, on Friday, Lindsey and four other Heine Brothers workers sat in the fluorescent-lit, cinder-blocked main room of the SEIU hall on Churchman Avenue, celebrating their victory in the biggest union election in Louisville in years.
"We've created our community — the workers have — with lackluster support oftentimes from upper management," Lindsey said. Fighting tears, she called the victory "the biggest honor, probably, of my lifetime."
Workers at the local coffee chain's 17 stores in Louisville and southern Indiana voted by a large margin to accept representation by an SEIU affiliate during a secret ballot election Thursday, according to SEIU-32BJ organizer Emily Walker.
The vote was 97-60, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections. A pre-election document indicated 221 workers were eligible to cast ballots.
The union said it's the second-biggest group of baristas to organize in the country.
Heine Brothers, which has opposed to the union effort, has five days to dispute the election, after which the result will be final if unchallenged.
"While we hoped for a different result because we do not believe third party representation is needed at Heine Brothers, we have said that we will respect the outcome of a fair and legal election, and we fully intend to do so," Mike Mays, co-founder and president of Heine Brothers, said in a statement Friday. "We are reviewing all the events leading up to the vote to make sure our team members had the opportunity to make an uncoerced and informed decision. That's all we ever wanted."
Workers are looking ahead to winning a first labor contract from the company, which will be legally required to bargain "in good faith" with the union if the election result holds.
Newly formed unions often struggle to reach a first agreement with employers, according to Ariana Levinson, a labor law professor at the University of Louisville.
While more than 200 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize across the country, the national chain has yet to reach a labor contract with its union baristas.
"'Good faith' really just means that you need to meet, you need to make offers back and forth. But the way that our legal system is, you don't actually need to reach agreement," Levinson said.
After a year, unions become vulnerable to a vote to decertify their status, she said.
"This is one of those places where the labor laws really favor the employers over the workers, and it makes it really difficult to make change in our workplaces," she said.
The Heine Brothers workers said they want to negotiate a deal with their employer as soon as possible, though they expect Heine Brothers to drag out the process. Mays' statement didn't address a potential contract negotiation.
The workers said their roughly $10 per hour wages before customer tips are not enough to live on.
"We should not have to rely on the tips of our customers to be able to live and make it by. I believe that we deserve so much more," said Jasmin Bush, a barista and union supporter.
The workers did not specify a minimum hourly demand.
They would also like minimum staffing requirements so that stores are not overwhelmed with orders and to agree on transparent policies for accruing paid time off, they said.
The pro-union workers have also said in previous interviews that the company should make health insurance available to those who work fewer than 30 hours a week.
Asked if they would be willing to go on strike to win a deal, Lindsey said, "If the time came, and we had to consider it, we would consider it as an option. But it would be a last option. We don't want to stop working. We want to continue working. And we just hope that they meet us with some respect here."