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October 26, 2023

Coffee By Design voluntarily recognizes union for baristas, retail workers

person smiling with tanks FILE PHOTO / TIM GREENWAY Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of Coffee By Design, this week voluntarily recognized Local 327 as the baristas’ collective bargaining agent.

A week after baristas at Coffee By Design's three Portland coffeehouses announced plans to form a union, the company has recognized the organized labor group.

Previously, 89% of the retail workforce had signed cards authorizing Local 327 of the Laborers' International Union of North America to represent them. On Wednesday, Coffee By Design and the local said they plan to work together for the mutual benefit of the business and the workers. 

Coffee By Design filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to voluntarily recognize Local 327 as the collective bargaining agent for the baristas and retail employees, and to begin contract negotiations immediately.

"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,” Coffee By Design’s owner, Mary Allen Lindemann, said in a statement. “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.”

She continued, “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. 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.”

The workers cited industry-low pay and uneven hours, which have led to inconsistent benefits, an ad-hoc disciplinary system and substandard working conditions as reasons for forming a union.

Coffee By Design is headquartered in Portland, where it runs coffeehouses at 1 Diamond St., 67 India St. and 620 Congress St. The business is owned and led by Mary Allen Lindemann, who co-founded the business with Alan Spear in 1994. In 2005 both were recognized as Mainebiz Business Leaders of the Year, and Lindemann was named a Mainebiz Woman to Watch in 2019.

In the past, Lindemann has had a progressive stance on many business issues, but in 2022, she was a vocal opponent of the referendum which would have increased Portland's minimum wage to $18. 

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

Labor organizing is on the rise in Maine and nationwide, and unions have formed at social service organizations, Maine Medical Center, the Portland Museum of Art and at least one other coffeehouse in Maine.

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