Little Dog Coffee Shop workers organized a strike and protest at the Maine Street business Sunday. Courtesy of Rep. Dan Ankeles

Workers at the Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick went on strike Sunday, alleging owner Larry Flaherty has refused to bargain in good faith on a union contract and failed to maintain equipment — claims he denies.

The shop’s workers in November unanimously voted to unionize through Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that represents Starbucks workers at shops across the country, including one in Biddeford and another in Portland that recently closed. Since then, Little Dog workers have been negotiating a contract with Flaherty while equipment keeps breaking down, they claim. The workers last week filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Flaherty has bargained in bad faith.

Little Dog Coffee Shop workers said they went on strike to advocate for a union contract. Courtesy of Rep. Dan Ankeles

“We were surprised by these allegations,” Flaherty said in a statement Monday. “Unfortunately, this is what big unions like (the Service Employees International Union) do to little companies and mom-and-pop shops like us — they hit us with one strike and/or unfair labor practice charge after another (justified or not) knowing how costly it will be for the business to continue to lose revenue or try and defend itself, with the intent of either making the business cave to their demands or shut down entirely.”

Flaherty said the strike Sunday forced the shop’s closure. Some of the shop’s 10 part-time workers and members of the community held a demonstration outside the busy Maine Street shop, holding signs with messages calling for a new contract.

Barista Sophie Creamer, who has worked at the shop for eight months, said workers decided to strike because of “unilateral changes” that were not negotiated with the union, including provisions dictating how equipment failures are dealt with. She said a dish-sanitizing machine broke down, forcing employees to hand-wash dishes and use a sanitizing solution that left workers with rashes on their arms. The shop’s air conditioner broke down a few months ago, an espresso machine and drip coffee maker were leaking for months before they were fixed, and decaf espresso is no longer offered because a grinder broke, according to Creamer.

“The unilateral changes we are bargaining over have disrupted our work and led to inefficient service,” Creamer said. “We only wish to be able to work in an orderly and productive environment so that we may better serve our community the drinks and snacks they love.”


Flaherty said he replaced the sanitizer solution and had an estimate done last week for repairs to the air conditioning.

“Other items have been repaired, some parts had to be ordered and replaced, some had to be worked on,” he said. “In all reality, like in all other businesses, things break and get repaired.”

Barista Chris Cushing, who has worked at the shop for a month, said the equipment failures are disheartening.

“It’s made it incredibly difficult, especially with it getting busier now,” Cushing said.

The workers said they want a say in how equipment failures are rectified.

As for the contract negotiations, Flaherty said the two sides first met in February.


“They offered 16 pages of non-economic proposals,” he said. “Regrettably, upon our closer review, their list of demands had many inaccuracies and/or were inapplicable to Little Dog. … For instance, there was a full-page proposal on ’employee-organizing rights’ and fair-election principals, when the employees are already organized and in a bargaining unit. There also were several proposals that included language about ‘other locations’ when this union only covers one location.”

He said the sides met again in March and the union proposed 60 minutes of union training every three months and 29 hours of annual health and safety training. He said he asked for more information about the proposals but didn’t receive a response.

He said the two sides were supposed to meet again April 20, but union representatives didn’t show up.

“We have not heard from them about bargaining since,” he said. “We are ready, willing and able to negotiate with the union representatives.”

A Workers United spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Flaherty acquired Little Dog last year; he also owns the Met Coffee House chain, with one location in Freeport and two in North Conway, New Hampshire.

“Some of my disbelief over this whole unionization effort arises from the fact that when I purchased the Little Dog in July, I gave everyone a raise from approximately $9 per hour to $14-$15 per hour,” he said. “I also offered $200 a month subsidized benefits package, which included … medical, dental and vision, and on top of that a (401K) with a 3% match. Four to six weeks after the purchase they decided to move forward and organize a union and not accept any of the non-negotiated offered benefits. They’re obviously within their right to do so.”

Little Dog opened in 2005.

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