Autumn Flibotte was a shift leader at Little Dog by the Met in Brunswick for nearly two years, but was fired Wednesday along with another employee. Flibotte said the termination is a union-busting tactic and retaliation for union organizing. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Two former employees of Little Dog by the Met say they were fired by the owner of the Brunswick coffee shop this week as workers are trying to join a union.

Workers at Little Dog who are planning a vote to join Workers United, which represents workers in the food service industry, filed a complaint Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the owner, Flaherty Retail of Maine, engaged in unfair labor practices by firing two employees who support organizing.

By law, employers cannot discharge, lay off or discipline employees because they are pro-union. Less than 15% of employees in Maine are represented by unions, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Workers at the popular downtown coffee shop notified owner Larry Flaherty in September of their intent to form a union, a move they say was prompted by concerns over food safety, a lack of transparency and respect from ownership, and unlivable wages. Most employees make $14 an hour plus tips, union organizers said.

“Unionizing is necessary to ensure the promises you make are followed through completely. We have personally seen what Workers United has done for other baristas around the country and we stand in solidarity with them, as they do with us,” workers wrote in their letter to Flaherty.

Autumn Flibotte, a former shift lead at Little Dog who uses the pronoun they, said they were fired by Flaherty on Wednesday, a couple of weeks after he asked if Flibotte had signed a union card and pressed for details about who else was involved with organizing. Flibotte, 24, said they do not have a history of performance or attendance issues and had not been trying to influence anyone to support a union.


“It is perceived to be an act of union busting and retaliation in that he is trying to scare the other employees into either submission or assimilation to his vision and what he wants for the store,” Flibotte said. “A union is clearly not something that he is in favor of or has envisioned for his future of Little Dog.”

Flaherty and his wife, Diane, bought Little Dog in July. They also own The Metropolitan Coffee Houses, with locations in Freeport and North Conway, New Hampshire. He said Thursday that he could not violate employee privacy to discuss specific circumstances, but allegations that he terminated employees for union organizing don’t make sense.

A sign supporting a union Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Not only was the union organizing not relevant to their terminations, but both told me directly that they weren’t involved in organizing and had only attended an informational meeting,” Flaherty said in an email. Another assistant manager also attended an informational meeting and is still employed at Little Dog, he said.

As manager, those employees were not eligible for inclusion in the bargaining unit, which Workers United agreed to, Flaherty said.

Jess Czarnecki, a barista at Little Dog who is leading the organization effort, said discussions about unionizing began in August when workers were unhappy with how things were going following the ownership change. Czarnecki, who uses the pronoun they, had been watching what was happening at Starbucks locations across the country and in Maine and they felt that Little Dog workers also would benefit from a union contract.

Workers at the Starbucks in Portland’s Old Port voted last month to form a union, and workers at the Biddeford location voted 9-3 to join the union in July, saying they were tired of seeing co-workers leave because of inconsistent scheduling and low pay. In the past year, 216 of Starbucks’ 9,000 U.S. locations have voted to unionize, while workers at 46 stores have voted against it.


Similar campaigns have been launched at other major companies, including Amazon. In Maine, workers at Maine Medical Center, the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Museum of Art, Bates College, Waterville KVCAP, Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit and the Kittery Water District have voted to unionize in the past year.

Employees decided to notify Flaherty of their intent in September after they were forced to keep the cafe open and continue serving food even though the building didn’t have hot water, Czarnecki said. Since then, they say Flaherty has made comments that workers feel are meant to intimidate them. Firing Flibotte and assistant manager Joey Berube “is meant to scare us or make people so mad they quit,” Czarnecki said.

The seven workers who will vote in the union election this month still support organizing, Czarnecki said. The election scheduled for Oct. 29 was postponed because of COVID-19 cases among staff. It will instead be done by mail and the ballots will be counted on Nov. 30 by the National Labor Relations Board.

“The union busting hasn’t worked,” Czarnecki said.

Berube, 21, said he was told Wednesday that he was being terminated from his job as assistant manager, but he “felt like it was coming at some point.” He said his interactions with Flaherty had been tense as Flaherty changed the menu. Berube was supportive of his co-workers’ right to organize, but had not taken an active role because he wasn’t sure if he would be included in the union because of his management position.

Berube said that like Flibotte, he was called into a meeting with Flaherty and asked if he had signed a union card and who else supported the union. Berube wasn’t sure if Flaherty had the legal right to ask him those things and answered only a few of the questions, he said.

People walk past the Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick on Thursday shortly after it closed for the day. A sign on the door read, “We are closing at 1:00 PM Today due to staffing Issues.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Because of that questioning, he had the awareness that I was supportive of the people’s right to organize,” he said.

Flibotte, who lives in Brunswick and worked at Little Dog for nearly two years, said they are still in shock about being fired from a job they love. It “felt like a slap in the face,” they said. Flibotte said they loved their co-workers, felt connected to the community and had hoped to work at Little Dog for at least the next few years.

“While my future with Little Dog is shorter than I anticipated, I’m hoping there will be other opportunities in downtown Brunswick where I can find my place and come back to my people,” Flibotte said.

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