People walk past the Little Dog Coffee Shop earlier this month in Brunswick. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Employees at Little Dog by the Met coffee shop in Brunswick voted Wednesday to join Workers United, a union that represents workers in the food service industry.

Jess Czarnecki, a barista who led the unionization effort, said all four votes cast were in favor of forming a union. There were no negative votes tabulated during the virtual count.

“I am elated and kind of in disbelief,” Czarnecki said. “But we won. It was a full yes (vote).”

There has been some turnover at the coffee shop on Maine Street, but Czarnecki said at least 10 workers will be represented by the union. Negotiations on a new contract can begin with Little Dog’s owner Larry Flaherty seven days after Wednesday’s results have been certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

Workers at the popular downtown coffee shop notified Flaherty in September of their intent to form a union. An in-person vote that had been scheduled for Oct. 29 was canceled following a COVID outbreak among the staff. It was rescheduled for Nov. 30, and votes were cast by mail.

“This has been a long time coming. By recognizing our union and allowing Little Dog by the Met to flourish we will only get better. In return, your business will too,” workers wrote in a letter to Flaherty earlier this year. “We were made to be essential workers during the height of the pandemic. It’s time appreciation was shown by putting workers in positions of control over their lives.”


Flaherty said he was an observer during Wednesday’s vote count, which was conducted virtually on Zoom under the supervision of a representative from the NLRB. Once the Brunswick coffee shop is fully staffed, he expects to employ 12 to 15 workers.

Flaherty said he will bargain with the union on a new contract.

“I’m not surprised by the outcome. I kind of knew that was the way people wanted to move,” Flaherty said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

Flaherty and his wife, Diane, bought Little Dog in July. They own two Metropolitan Coffee Houses in New Hampshire, including one at Settlers Green in North Conway, and a second in North Conway Village. The Flahertys also operate The Met at Freeport, a coffee shop on Main Street.

Flaherty said the average hourly wage paid to a barista in Brunswick is $15, but between wages and tips a barista can make up to $40,000 a year. He said he offered employees a 401(k) plan with a three percent employer match, as well as dental, vision and health care.

“I’ve always tried to be an employer of choice,” he said.


Little Dog workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Nov. 3 alleging that Flaherty Retail of Maine engaged in unfair labor practices by firing two employees who supported organizing. After the complaint was filed, Flaherty said the two workers were not terminated because of union organizing. He said he could not talk about it further because that would violate employee privacy.

Workers said they were prompted to organize over concerns about food safety, a lack of transparency and respect from ownership, and unlivable wages.

The union campaign garnered support from state legislators Sen. Mattie Daughtry, Rep.-elect Dan Ankeles, Rep. Poppy Arford and Rep.-elect Cheryl Golek, all of whom represent Brunswick.

“As a small-business owner, I know that a community’s best resource is their workers. For many workers, a union is the best way to feel supported and heard,” Daughtry said in a statement before the vote. “I applaud these workers’ standing together to push for fair wages and safer working conditions. Little Dog Cafe and its friendly employees have been a major part of Brunswick’s downtown character for years. I truly hope that, if the vote to unionize goes through, Little Dog’s new owners will see the good intentions and passion put into this effort and agree to negotiate with workers in good faith.”

The Little Dog vote comes amid a wave of union votes at Starbucks locations across the country. In the past year, more than 250 Starbucks stores have voted to join Starbucks Workers United, including the Biddeford and Old Port locations.

A month after workers at the Old Port Starbucks voted to unionize, the company announced that location will close on Dec. 23, prompting U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, to call on the NLRB to investigate what she called “blatant union-busting tactics.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company has to vacate the building while it is renovated, but the building owner said he tried to keep Starbucks as a tenant and offered them a temporary location.

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