Early in the morning on Sunday, May 7th, workers at the Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick notified the shop’s owner and management of their intent to strike. The Little Dog workers, who unanimously voted to unionize back in November 2022, have alleged a number of unfair labor practices (ULPs) committed by owner Larry Flaherty. Workers and community supporters showed up around 7:00 AM in good spirits, carrying signs to picket the shop for one day in order to bring attention to their struggle. Often taking the form as a walkout or one-day strike, this is what is technically called a ULP strike, which is allowed under NLRB rules if the workers’ purpose is to protest unfair labor practices committed by management.
Chris Cushing, a member of the union, told me that “specifically, today we’re protesting unfair labor practices by Larry Flaherty, and his unwillingness to bargain in good faith. And so, we’re out here engaging the community and educating them on what we’re going through. And it seems to be very positive.” Plenty of cars driving by honked their support as the workers waved their homemade signs and played old labor songs. The weather also decided to participate, as the warm spring sun helped keep the strikers in a fun mood throughout the day.
When asked about other practices the workers were concerned about, Jess, an organizer for the union who has worked at Little Dog on and off for three years, cited things like “unilateral changes that weren’t bargained over, [management] not maintaining and upkeeping our equipment, and chemicals in the sanitizer machine really messing with our hands. We sent in a bunch of OSHA complaints, and some of those got dealt with, but some of them really didn’t.”
Roughly half the crowd that showed up were community members eager to support Little Dog workers in their fight for a fair labor contract. One of those folks was Cyr Cronin, a member of Starbucks Workers United who drove up from the Biddeford area to show solidarity. “Whether you’re fighting a big megacorporation like Starbucks, or you’re a small shop here in Brunswick, we both share a similar struggle, and we’re both subject to retaliation and discrimination for simply wanting better working conditions.” Both Little Dog Workers Union and Starbucks Workers United are part of the larger Workers United Labor Union, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has garnered a lot of attention in recent years for their campaign to organize Starbucks stores across the nation.
Little Dog workers hope that their ULP strike convinces owner Flaherty to come to the table and bargain in good faith. They’re also hoping to receive support from the NLRB, but that Board has been both swamped and under-staffed for quite some time. So, it’s important now more than ever for community support. Union members want to remind and encourage individuals that there are ways the public can help. “People can stop in, chat with their baristas, kind of learn what’s going,” Cushing suggested. “They can check out our union’s Instagram. Folks can also let Larry know they’re upset with how he’s treating us. The best way to do that is by DMing Little Dog Coffee Shop on Instagram or Facebook, and then sharing a screenshot of that DM with us so we can post it and share it more broadly.” To learn more about the union and ways that you can help, you can visit their website HERE.