Co-owner Mary Allen Lindemann has agreed to voluntarily accept a union for baristas at Coffee by Design. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Coffee By Design has agreed to voluntarily recognize a union for company employees, and negotiations over a new contract for the 20 baristas who work at the company’s three Portland coffee shops will begin soon.

Mary Allen Lindemann, who co-founded the shop in 1994, said in a statement issued Wednesday that she was proud of the company’s long-standing commitment to Maine and its employees. Coffee by Design is one of the earliest and most progressive fair-trade coffee shops in Portland.

“We have always said a great cup of coffee changes lives, and viewed our coffee, and our business, as a catalyst for positive change and solidarity. It is in keeping with this philosophy and our long-demonstrated commitment to our employees that we will work with the Laborers’ Union in support of our retail baristas,” Lindemann said.

Jason J. Shedlock, the spokesman for Local 327, which will represent the baristas at the bargaining table, said in a telephone interview that he plans to be deliberate about setting up a negotiations in a time frame that will work for both sides. Before the sides can meet, Shedlock said the baristas must form a negotiations team.

“It’s best we do this deliberately, rather than quickly,” Shedlock said. “We are committed to working together on this contract.”

A majority of the coffee shop’s retail workers and baristas had declared their intent to join a union last week. Shedlock said the contract will not apply to the employees who work in Coffee By Design’s Diamond Street roastery, where a team of workers roast, package and sort coffee beans. A new contract also will not affect the company’s management team.


After the retail workers declared their intentions, management filed the appropriate paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to voluntarily recognize Local 327 of the Laborer’s Union as the baristas’ collective bargaining agent and to start contract negotiations immediately, according to a release from the union and Coffee By Design.

“This is the way it’s supposed to work. I’m pleased that the management team at Coffee By Design has agreed that our collective energy is best used to work together towards a fair and equitable first collective bargaining agreement,” said Shedlock, regional organizer and secretary-treasurer of Local 327.

“With the buy-in of ownership, worker solidarity and public support, we look forward to continuing that collaborative approach to move forward with a structure that ensures 30 more years of worker-powered and customer-focused success at Coffee By Design,” Shedlock continued. “I personally want to thank Ms. Lindemann and her team for their foresight and partnership as we navigate this process together. Others in the industry should take note of her leadership, and at the same time realize that whenever and wherever workers want to amplify their voice, the Laborers’ Union fully intends to be there to hand them the megaphone.”

Valen Doe, a Coffee By Design barista, said she loves working at the coffee shops. She said her fellow baristas and her customers are like family, but there do need to be some improvements in wages and work schedules.

“We want a new contract because this is such a great place to work. The wages just need to catch up with the times,” Doe said.

She said it is very difficult to live and work in Portland on a wage of $14 a hour. She does get tips that on average brought in an additional $10 an hour when she worked at Coffee By Design’s Congress Street shop, but that shop is temporarily closed and a barista can not always rely on customers’ generosity.


“We want this to work for everyone and for it to be sustainable,” Doe said said of her workplace. “We do get tips, but unfortunately the cost of living is going up for everyone. Earning $14 an hour is not sustainable.”

In addition to a wage boost, Doe said baristas would like to have schedules they can rely on. She receives 30 hours a week, but some workers’ schedules can fluctuate.

“We need to know what we’re getting (in terms of work hours). Sometimes, it can be all over the place,” Doe said.

The coffee shop has been recognized nationally for the quality of its operation and Lindemann has won numerous awards for her commitment to socially responsible business practices and support of nonprofits.

“Ultimately, Coffee By Design would not be here today without the support of many – our farm partners who grow the coffee, our retail baristas who serve the coffee, our loyal customers who choose to purchase our coffee, and our award-winning Roastery team, which treats the coffee with the care it deserves,” Lindemann said in the statement. “Solidarity within our community and our workplace supports the people who have chosen to call Maine home and that ethos is central to our success. Together, we look forward to a bright future.”

Coffee By Design currently operates coffee shops on India Street and Diamond Streets in Portland. Its coffee shop on Congress Street is temporarily closed due to staffing issues. The company’s fourth location in Freeport, located in the basement of the L.L. Bean retail store, was forced to close earlier this year to allow L.L. Bean to renovate its flagship store.


Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story