Newly organized workers at the Augusta Chipotle are accusing the chain of union busting after it abruptly closed the location.
The Chipotle on Stephen King Drive closed effective Tuesday, and has been closed to the public since Sunday, according to the union and chain. The closure came as the National Labor Relations Board was set to hold a hearing to determine the union election process, Maine AFL-CIO spokesperson Andy O’Brien said.
“They waited until the morning of the hearing to close the store and then claimed we couldn’t elect to form a union because we’re permanently closed. This is union busting 101 and there is nothing that motivates us to fight harder than this underhanded attempt to shut down the labor movement within their stores. They’re scared because they know how powerful we are and if we catch fire like the unionization effort at Starbucks they won’t be able to stop us,” said Brandi McNease, a worker and member of Chipotle United.
McNease pledged to fight the decision to close. O’Brien said the union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Chipotle with the National Labor Relations Board.
The Augusta Chipotle’s workers planned to rally outside the location at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
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Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer for Chipotle, said in a Tuesday statement that the closure was prompted by staffing challenges, saying the chain went to “extraordinary lengths” to recruit new workers at the location.
“Despite these efforts, we have been unable to adequately staff this remote restaurant with crew and continue to be plagued with excessive call-outs and lack of availability from existing staff. We have had an even more difficult time finding managers to lead the restaurant. Because of these ongoing staffing challenges, there is no probability of reopening in the foreseeable future, so we’ve made the decision to permanently close the restaurant,” Schalow said.
An email sent to workers at 7:39 a.m. from Lisa Zeppetelli, a people experience partner for Chipotle in the Northeast, details that workers will be paid through the end of the week, as well as receive four weeks’ severance based on hours worked over the prior two weeks. The Maine AFL-CIO circulated a screenshot of that email Tuesday.
“For a company that gave a bonus to its CEO that was 1,700 times more than the median Chipotle worker’s pay in 2020, I don’t believe for a minute that they couldn’t afford to hire a manager and enough staff to keep this store running. Chipotle has the money to attract workers and pay them living wages, but it would prefer to use it to pay exorbitant dividends to their shareholders,” McNease said.
READ MORE UNION COVERAGE
Chipotle workers at the location voted to form an independent union late last month. That came just a week after the Chipotle workers staged a two-day walkout in protest of what they called unsafe working conditions and low staffing.
It was the first Chipotle store in the nation to file for union recognition. It comes amid an upsurge in union activity across the country, particularly in sectors that aren’t traditionally unionized, such as food service. The Maine AFL-CIO said Tuesday it has seen a dramatic spike in calls from fast food workers who want to unionize.