A Coffee by Design employee steams milk in 2022. The Portland-based coffee shop and roastery has become the first locally owned company in Maine to ratify a contract with a labor union. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Coffee By Design and a recently formed union of baristas have reached an agreement that boosts wages, rewards long-time employees and lays out a strategy for improved relations between the company’s workers and managers, officials said.

It is the first independent coffee shop in Maine to have ratified a contract with a labor union, a spokesperson for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, said in a statement Friday.

“Today’s announcement should be an immense point of pride for Coffee By Design and the workers who power its success,” said Jason J. Shedlock, a regional organizer with the union. “This process showed that when workers and management commit to actively listen to each other, challenge each other’s assumptions of what’s possible and jettison the preconceived construct of winners and losers; a pathway to shared goals becomes clear.”

Fifteen Coffee By Design baristas and front-of-house staff are now members of Local 327, which has a total of about 400 Maine members from multiple companies, Shedlock said.

Coffee By Design started doing business in 1994 and was one of the earliest and most progressive fair-trade coffee shops in Portland. It currently has two locations in the city. Its roastery, which sells coffee beans to over 600 businesses and has an on-site cafe, is at 1 Diamond St. Its other coffeehouse is at 67 India St.

“It’s been an amazing feat to watch the baristas of Coffee By Design come together with teamwork, patience, dedication and solidarity,” said Jillian Mercier, a barista and shift leader. “We started this process as a way to make the best coffee shop in Maine even better by ensuring its workers have the tools needed to serve the best customers in Maine.”


Shedlock said the collective bargaining agreement includes an immediate pay increase for every represented worker and a second increase later in the year.

“That increase is on a sliding scale based on how long an employee has worked at Coffee By Design,” he said in an email. “Further, along with the increase upon ratification, each employee will also earn an additional adjustment upon their anniversary of hire.”

Accounting for both pay boosts, wage increases will “vary from around 6% to around 9% depending on length of service and pre-(collective bargaining agreement) wage rates,” Shedlock said.

Another outcome of the new contract is the formation of a “Labor-Management Committee for the purposes of implementing shared goals and exploring new ways to collaborate,” according to Friday’s statement.

“My priority has always been ensuring our employees have a voice and equal opportunity,” owner Mary Allen Lindemann said in the statement, adding that “solidarity within our community and workplace is our foundation.” Lindemann was traveling Friday and unavailable for an interview.

A barista at the former Congress Street site told the Press Herald in October that she made $14 an hour and got tips that would add an average of $10 an hour, which she called “not sustainable.” She also said baristas had been hoping to firm up workers’ schedules and hours as part of the negotiations.


Shedlock declined to answer questions about the new lowest and highest hourly wages. A lawyer involved with the negotiations said only employees can disclose that information.

The company voluntarily recognized the union on Oct. 25, five days before it announced the closure of its original coffeehouse on Congress Street.

Lindemann said at the time the decision to close was unrelated to workers’ efforts to unionize and came after “years of this location barely breaking even.” Shedlock also said talks of shuttering that cafe were “in the works” before the union effort began.

The company was forced to close its location inside the L.L.Bean store in Freeport last May because of the retailer’s renovation project.

Friday’s news contrasts with unionization efforts by workers at a national coffee chain with shops in Maine’s biggest city. Starbucks closed its Old Port location at the corner of Exchange and Middle streets late in 2022, a month after employees there voted to form a union.

The National Labor Relations Board accused the company of closing that shop and 22 others across the country in response to attempts by workers to unionize.

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