In a world where oatmilk lattes are ordered online and to-go orders are taken through the Toast app, it’s concerningly easy to lose the humanity in these seemingly small interactions. The pandemic has exacerbated difficulties in the already-difficult service industry, resulting in a world where customers interact less with workers and more with websites. It’s easy to forget the hands behind your hazelnut cold brews, and it’s even easier to discount the lives behind those hands. With rampant inflation and a rather cruel minimum wage, ensuring the livelihood of employees is paramount. Brunswick’s own Little Dog by the Met employees, in an effort to attain a livable wage and better working conditions, declared their intent to unionize last month following a change of ownership. The Bowdoin Orient’s Editorial Board supports this step towards worker empowerment.
Little Dog employees currently make about $15 per hour plus tips. While this amount is more than Maine’s minimum wage of $12.75, it does not meet the figure for a living wage in the state. In Maine, the living wage for one adult with zero children is $17.88.
Furthermore, while the shop has recently advertised its job openings as starting at $20 per hour, this number fails to tell the whole story. In reality, the jobs have come with a base wage of $14 per hour with an assumed tip earning to meet the $20 figure. While this figure in addition to tips can meet the living wage in Maine, tips are not wages and should not be relied upon to meet a livable income.
It’s easy for workers to believe that their employers have their best interests in mind, but the reality is that many business managers have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to ensure continued economic growth. In an economic downturn, this means cutting wages, reducing working conditions or under-staffing and overworking employees. Even the kindest and most compassionate employers can end up enacting these cost-saving measures in a pinch, and their employees will end up on the chopping block.
Regardless of economic conditions, unions allow workers to have a say in the future of their own livelihood—as a union, the employees have genuine bargaining power and an organized say in their workplace.
Workers’ collective bargaining has been legally protected since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. It ensures workers can have representation “without fear of retaliation.” Regardless of whether circumstances in a workplace might urge employees to seek change, employees have the legal right to form a union.
Yet, many collective bargaining labor movements have faced challenges. On the national level, despite the unprecedented Staten Island Amazon unionization, other unionization efforts in Amazon warehouses around the nation have faced a string of defeats. Close to our own community, the Chipotle in Augusta was shuttered hours before a scheduled labor hearing about a possible unionization election.
Starting a unionization process in a political and legal climate that disadvantages labor movements is undoubtedly scary. Union elections are public, stripping participants’ anonymity and leaving them vulnerable to retaliation or criticism from other workers, employers and, in an intimate town like Brunswick, the community. Regardless of the process or outcomes, we should recognize the significance of the workers stepping forward for this process in the first place.
Everyone in our community deserves to be able to support themselves with their daily earnings. This extends beyond the Little Dog employees to everyone who works in Brunswick, including all Bowdoin employees. Furthermore, all those who work in our community should have the right to unionize without intimidation or impediment if unsuitable working conditions, benefits or wages inspire this united action.
The Bowdoin Orient’s Editorial Board unequivocally supports the Little Dog union movement and encourages all efforts towards unionization within our Brunswick and Bowdoin communities.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Sophie Burchell, Andrew Cohen, Julia Dickinson, Jaida Hodge-Adams, Sam Pausman, Austin Zheng, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.