This article continues Pine & Rose’s coverage of events related to unionization at Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick.
On June 22, 2023, following a two-week strike by the Little Dog Workers Union, owner Larry Flaherty called together the staff of the Little Dog Coffee Shop. Union members were aware of Flaherty’s intent to sell the business and that he did not intend on entering contract negotiations. What they did not know was that all employees were being let go immediately without notice. Eight months after a unanimous vote to unionize and less than 2 months after a one day walkout strike in May, Flaherty announced that Little Dog had been sold despite community support for both the coffee shop and its striking workers. Nothing further was shared at that time.
Matters that led to the union’s June strike were much the same as those that led to their earlier strike in May, as covered previously by Pine & Roses, and included failure to replace broken equipment, management’s obstruction of the contract negotiation process, reduced hours and workforce, and unannounced prospective buyers touring the shop at a time when only less experienced staff were on hand. This final matter was a point of particular concern for the union, as union members present that day felt uncomfortable and unable to push back against the ill-timed intrusion.
More than a month after being fired, organizer Jess Czarnecki reports the union is still waiting to receive information regarding the reasons for their termination and terms of sale of the shop by Flaherty to Raffi Sulahian, a businessman who oversaw a number of cafes in California. Sulahian now claims to live in Topsham, though this claim has not been corroborated. Per The Time Record, Sulahian’s intention had been to open an “ethical, eco-friendly” cafe at 87 Main St. To support this effort, Sulahian started a GoFundMe, though that funding campaign was canceled in late July following community backlash both to the campaign as well as a controversial open letter published in the Portland Press Herald, according to reporting in the Bangor Daily News. All of this took place against the backdrop of union assertions that the firings were illegal and that Sulahian’s purchase of the business makes him the responsible party in all open legal cases.
As of midnight on July 27, the latest National Labor Relations Board deadline for responding to the union’s request for information passed without comment from either Flaherty or Sulahian. This represents another unfair labor practice, adding to the list of grievances filed by the union with the NLRB. Former employees of Little Dog report that, despite early conversations with Sulahian during which he professed support for the union’s efforts, in recent months he has been both antagonistic and difficult to reach. Several younger union members were invited to the shop in order to clean and make the space ready to reopen but were never paid for the work, according to union member Peach Cushing. Conflicting public statements by Flaherty and Sulahian further sow confusion, as the former insists the property was sold while the latter insists that he never took steps to purchase the space or otherwise assume its lease.
Today, members of the Little Dog Workers Union are uncertain about the future of the shop or the union. Several have moved on to look for work elsewhere, though remain eager to hear the result of multiple cases before the NLRB and hope at the very least to secure owed wages for employees from whom they were withheld. The general consensus is a positive one, with the majority of union members continuing to stand by their efforts to democratize their workplace despite where things now stand. One thing on which all agree is that they are deeply disappointed to see Brunswick lose a well-loved community coffee shop as a result of union-busting and managements’ refusal to negotiate.