Following the closure of Brunswick cafe Little Dog in June due to a two-week employee strike, the shop’s former space at 87 Maine Street remains empty as a union of former employees seeks retribution through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
According to Jessica Czarnecki, a lead organizer for the Little Dog workers’ union, the union has opened multiple complaints with the NLRB in which it accuses former Little Dog owner Larry Flaherty of coercion and bad faith bargaining, among other allegations.
The union claims that Flaherty began trying to sell the business within weeks of its finalized vote to unionize, suggesting that he never intended to faithfully bargain with employees. Flaherty did not return the Orient’s requests for comment.
“[Flaherty was] never bargaining in good faith with us if [he] put Little Dog up for sale the same month that we were federally recognized as a legal union,” Czarnecki said.
According to NLRB attorney Rachel Sandalow-Ash, an NLRB regional director found reason to believe that two Little Dog employees were unlawfully fired for engaging in union activity. Flaherty allegedly fired the individuals shortly after being notified of his employees’ intent to unionize.
Czarnecki said that union members alleging they were unlawfully terminated by Flaherty are seeking back pay.
“I have to hope that there will be justice in some form that we will all be very happy about,” Czarnecki said.
The pending complaints come in the wake of a staff walkout on June 10 due to claims of unsafe working conditions that led to a two-week-long strike.
Czarnecki claims the walkout resulted from a credit card reader malfunction that they attribute to Flaherty’s neglect of an outstanding internet bill. They also claim that Flaherty refused to fix a broken dish sanitizing machine and asked employees to operate the shop without a source of hot water. Flaherty has denied many of these claims, according to the Times Record.
“He was fully aware that things were damaged and needed to get fixed, and he was refusing to,” Czarnecki said. “That’s not okay.”
As the union’s legal battle with Flaherty unfolds, the future of 87 Maine Street—which has sat vacant since June—remains unclear.
Property records obtained from the Town of Brunswick Assessing Office indicate that the space is owned by Tondreau LLC and has been since prior to the union’s formation. A representative from the corporation could not be reached for comment.
According to Brunswick Economic Development Coordinator Sally Costello, Flaherty’s lease on the space has not yet expired, so the next tenant will be subleasing the space from Flaherty. She said the space is being eyed by a developer hoping to open a boutique coffee shop.
“I think it will add a piece to downtown Brunswick that has been missing,” Costello said.
In July, Californian coffee shop entrepreneur Raffi Sulahian attempted to crowdfund an “eco-conscious” cafe to be operated out of the Little Dog space. He claims to now have no interest in the space, due in part to the unionization effort that he openly criticized in a Portland Press Herald letter to the editor.
“Between the union effort that the employees had started against the last owner that locals took sides on and my attempts to crowdfund the project, it just created too much confusion,” Sulahian wrote to the Orient.
Sulahian denies having ever purchased or contemplating purchasing the Little Dog business itself. According to the Times Record, Flaherty disputes this claim.
Though a new venture is likely to replace Little Dog soon, union members feel the shop’s closure has left a hole impossible to fill. Czarnecki is still close with many of their former coworkers—many of whom miss the space and hope to someday return.
“I do not pass by Little Dog without being like, ‘That is Little Dog. That is where I am meant to work,’” Czarnecki said. “I don’t know, I think everyone feels that way…. That’s why we cared. That’s why we did so much.”