The employees of Little Dog by the MET who announced their intention to unionize last month have been continuing their work toward achieving a fair contract. To this end, the union will be holding an official election on October 29 to determine its ability to act as the employee’s collective bargaining representative. Union members are confident in their ability to garner the 30 percent support they need to have their measure approved.
“I’m excited, because I know we’re going to win,” union member Jess Czarnecki of Topsham said. “No one knows this guy [new owner Larry Flaherty], and people are frustrated, so they’re able to talk about unionizing a lot easier.”
If their election effort is successful, the union intends to enter contract negotiations with Flaherty. Chief among their goals is an increase in wages and more transparency from ownership.
“It’s about creating an equitable relationship with the ownership,” union member Sophie Creamer of Brunswick said. “We know the community we’re serving—we know what would make them happy. [Flaherty] isn’t from here; he doesn’t have any connection to the area that we’re aware of.”
Currently, employees at the shop make around $15 per hour in addition to tips. However, the union claims that this wage is not enough to live on in Maine—a state where a living wage is classified as $17.88 per hour for a single adult without dependents.
“$15 an hour is not the cost of living in Brunswick. At $15 an hour, you can’t even afford an apartment. [The new ownership] never had a conversation about wages—it’s frustrating,” union member Erin Shanahan of Brunswick said.
Compounding this frustration has been Flaherty’s recent advertising practices, which the union members consider to be misleading. Job openings at the coffee house have been advertised as starting at $20, which none of the union members were offered upon being hired.
“We’re being offered scraps for what we know could be offered. I know there’s better [wages to be offered],” Czarnecki said.
Flaherty, however, claimed that the union isn’t telling the full story. Flaherty says that his advertisement for $20 per hour consists of a base wage of $14 per hour and the assumed five-to-six dollars per hour in tips a barista earns in an average shift.
Along with wage increases, the union hopes for better healthcare benefits. Employees have been offered employer-based insurance through Harvard Pilgrim, but they claim that high premiums and deductibles render the offered package inaccessible.
“He’s paying 200 dollars of our premium, but we’ll still have to pay 200 dollars a month. How can we afford that?” Shanahan said.
Flaherty contests this accusation. The $67-per-week health insurance, he noted, is rarely offered by small business owners to their employees. He believes that the price is fair.
“From when I took over three months ago, I’ve brought subsidized healthcare to Little Dog. I want to be an employer of choice—that’s been my goal since I bought my first business eight years ago,” he said.
These two discrepancies, the union argues, are emblematic of the transparency issues they are fighting to fix. Under the new contract, they hope that communication with Flaherty will improve.
“There’s been a lack of communication. We don’t know what’s expected by supervisors from us,” Shanahan said.
It was this transparency issue that started the effort to unionize in the first place. Earlier this year, a maintenance issue with Little Dog’s water heater left the establishment without hot water, making it difficult for employees to wash their hands and dishes. The issue was not resolved until several days later, causing friction between Flaherty and his employees.
“He’ll come in once or twice a week and then not come in for two weeks,” Shanahan said. “I don’t know if him being more involved would be better or worse.”
These efforts by the union have not gone unnoticed by the Brunswick community. Local residents, as well as Bowdoin students, have been supportive of the union’s efforts.
Karin Dillman of Topsham, who has just recently started going to the shop, has been compelled to frequent the store more because of the labor efforts.
“I grew up in the Netherlands, walking to school everyday hearing ‘Workers of the World Unite’ on the radio. I feel for the workers,” she said. “You have a voice when you unionize.”
The union has also seen support from Bowdoin students. Nadia Puente ’25, who stopped going to the coffee house following the ownership change, has been compelled to come back and support the union.
“I’ve stopped seeing students come here as much. I stopped coming in when the new owner came because I got a latte here and it was eight dollars,” she said. “It’s more expensive, but if it’ll help the workers, then I’m willing to pay the price.”
The union has received additional support from local figures and groups, including State Senator Mattie Daughtry and the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA).
Keaghan Duffy ’23, a BLA member and supporter of the union, hopes that the unionization effort will inspire the Brunswick community to rally behind Little Dog employees.
“Little Dog has brought the community together in a lot of ways for decades. I don’t see that going away,” she said.
Union members are grateful for this support. Members stress that, although the road ahead may be uncertain, unionization efforts are necessary.
“I’ve been going to Little Dog my whole life. I love Little Dog. [Unionization] needed to happen regardless of ownership,” Shanahan said.