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Workers at Brunswick coffee shop strike over staffing, equipment concerns

Unionized workers at Brunswick's Little Dog coffee shop are on strike over what they say is a failure from management to adequately address issues with the store's equipment and staffing.

Barista Chris Cushing said workers voted to walk off the job on Sunday, frustrated by a lack of communication after a manager resigned last week and left the cafe with no one trained in safe food management, as required by the state. Workers have already called for improvements to faulty equipment, and Cushing said a broken credit card reader also hindered workers' ability to sell food and make tips.

"And we didn't get an answer on that, how to fix it, how to get things fixed. So the people on shift took a vote, decided to walk out. And since we still received no answers the day after, we decided to continue our strike," Cushing said.

In an email, café owner Larry Flaherty pushed back on the claims, saying that he responded to the credit card issues within a few hours, but the store was closed when he arrived. He also said that Maine's health codes give the business 60 days to replace someone with the safe food management certification.

"Based upon Maine Health Code, there is a period of sixty days to replace a ServeSafe qualified Person in Charge. The Union’s complaint is just another false narrative," Flaherty wrote.

Cushing said the information shared by Flaherty wasn't disclosed to them, and workers are calling for the business to improve communication and share plans to address the issues they raised.

"It would have been wonderful if he offered any of us to get certification within sixty days," Cushing said. "It takes like, a week, to study all the info and get ready for the test. So if he wants to do that, we will probably come off strike, honestly. We just want communication and answers. So if he wants to get us certified and get back to business, we're down."

Flaherty said that the union was voted in to address those issues. "Yet the union has not agreed to another bargaining session for several months so that we can address these issues," Flaherty said. "The employees seem to want to negotiate via email, but that’s not how contract negotiations are designed to work. Also, I told the union that we could discuss their request to have Union members become ServeSafe certified at the next bargaining session, but again, no sessions are scheduled."

Cushing said that certain pieces of day-to-day operations, such as training, can be discussed outside of bargaining. He adds that the union is hoping to set a bargaining date for this summer, when more employees are out of school and can participate in the bargaining process.

Workers at the coffee shop voted to form a union in late 2022, and have filed multiple unfair labor practices charges since then.