Baristas at Coffee By Design’s three coffeehouses announced Tuesday that they plan to form a union.

Workers at the three Portland locations say 89% of the retail workforce has signed cards authorizing Local 327 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America to represent them in collective bargaining with the company.

“Our success is Coffee By Design’s success,” barista and shift leader Lauren Gamble said in a statement issued by the group. “We’re banding together to ensure the long-term viability of our being able to continue to serve the best customers in Maine. Fairness, consistency and predictability shouldn’t be a whole lot to ask for when it comes to being able to have the tools necessary to provide our customers the experience they want and deserve.”

Every table is taken at Coffee By Design on a Monday morning in May 2022. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Coffee by Design’s owner, Mary Allen Lindemann, said in a statement Tuesday that she is open to sitting down with workers to negotiate a contract.

“We will work with Local 327 and our employees to determine next steps, which will include submission of the authorization cards to an impartial third party,” Lindemann said. “Once Local 327 is certified as the bargaining agent, we are prepared to begin good-faith negotiations on a contract that protects our employees and the long-term viability of Coffee By Design.”

Jason J. Shedlock, regional organizer and secretary for Local 327, said about 20 baristas would be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Coffee by Design’s three locations are on Congress Street, Diamond Street and India Street.


Coffee By Design announced Friday that it was temporarily closing its Congress Street location because of a staff shortage. In a Facebook post, Coffee By Design said it needs time to hire and train additional staff so that it can reopen with a full team.

“We’ve been running on steam and doing our best, but we need more folks so the ones we have aren’t stretched too thin and can take days off,” the company said.

Lindemann said Coffee By Design supports the right of employees to organize.

“We have a great team of employees at Coffee By Design. They are critical to the company’s success and to the experience of our customers, and we have worked hard to offer competitive wages and benefits, including health insurance,” Lindemann said. “For 29 years, we have worked to create a transparent and supportive workplace, and we will continue to do that.

“Through this process, we want to make sure that voices of all our employees are heard,” Lindemann added. In addition to its three Portland coffeehouses, the location at 1 Diamond St. includes the company’s roastery. Coffee By Design sells to nearly 600 wholesale and mail order customers around the world, according to its website.

Company workers cited low wages by industry standards, uneven hours that make benefits inconsistent, and an ad-hoc disciplinary system and working conditions that don’t meet best practice standards as reasons for forming a union.


“The free and fair choice to form a union shouldn’t be up for debate,” barista Valen Doe said. “With so many of us standing in solidarity for a better, more collaborative way forward, we trust that the ownership and management will see that working together is far more efficient and cost effective than the alternative.”

Shedlock said he will file a petition to hold an election on forming a union with the National Labor Relations Board if Lindemann does not voluntarily recognize the union.

“I’ve been impressed with these workers. They really love their customers. They treat them as though they were family,” he said.

Coffee By Design closed its Freeport coffeehouse in the basement of the L.L. Bean retail store in May. At the time, Lindemann said Coffee By Design was leaving its Freeport space two years earlier than expected because L.L. Bean is ahead of schedule on its multi-million dollar campus makeover.

Coffee By Design opened its first coffeehouse in 1994 on Congress Street in the middle of what was known then as the city’s “porn district,” according to a brief history posted on the company’s website. Coffee By Design said the store helped spur a revitalization of the neighborhood and “has led to the thriving Arts District we enjoy today.”

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