Maine’s top Democrats on Thursday night blasted Chipotle for closing its Augusta location after workers there formed a union.
Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, called the move “shameful,” saying it represents the “ultimate form of union-busting.”
“At this point, it is not even about the money anymore; it is about control. … Fair wages, safe working conditions, better staffing and reasonable hours shouldn’t be too much to ask for,” Jackson said.
He also called on the fast-casual chain to reopen the location and “do right by their employees.”
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The Chipotle on Stephen King Drive closed effective Tuesday, and had been closed to the public since Sunday. That closure came as the National Labor Relations Board was set to hold a hearing to determine the union election process on Tuesday, according to a Maine AFL-CIO spokesperson.
“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,” Brandi McNease, a worker and member of Chipotle United, said Tuesday in response to the announcement.
Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer for Chipotle, said Tuesday that the closure was prompted by staffing challenges, saying the chain went to “extraordinary lengths” to recruit new workers at the location.
The union has pledged to fight the closure and has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Chipotle.
Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, suggested Chipotle closed the location rather than negotiate, chastising the chain for not heeding its workers’ “demands for reasonable hours and safe conditions.”
“When someone so blatantly refuses to negotiate, it’s not a sign of strength. Goliath is sneering at David, not out of confidence but out of fear,” Vitelli said.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, called the closure “disappointing” and “frustrating,” saying it was “an unreasonable” response to workers’ “reasonable” requests.
“Corporate leaders claim they can’t find enough people to staff their restaurant, but it’s clear now that they simply have no interest in treating their workers well. They’d rather close an entire store, lay off workers and lose revenue than come to the table for an honest discussion — one that’s necessary and long overdue,” Daughtry said.
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They aren’t the only Maine political figures speaking out about the closure. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, on Thursday called on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the closure, saying the timing “raises serious concerns of illegal union-busting.”
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.