Chipotle is being accused of blacklisting workers who sought to unionize its former Augusta location.
Workers with the union Chipotle United stand outside the chain's former Augusta location in June. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine AFL-CIO

The workers who sought to unionize the now-closed Augusta Chipotle have accused the chain of blacklisting them from hire at other Maine locations.

It’s the latest accusation of anti-union activities leveled against Chipotle since the workers went public with their campaign to form an independent union in June.

Last week, the former Augusta Chipotle workers saw the restaurant chain advertising a job opening 45 minutes away at its Auburn location. The company had offered to help them find new jobs after the closure, but did not explicitly say they were eligible for hire at other locations, according to the Maine AFL-CIO.

So Brandi McNease, who was widely quoted about the first-ever union campaign at a Chipotle location in local and national press, attempted to apply to the job online, but found her email address on file with the chain blocked from applying.

She used an alternate email address and was able to apply and get scheduled for an interview on Aug. 4, according to the Maine AFL-CIO.

But the morning of her interview, McNease said she received a call from the location’s manager, who told McNease she wasn’t eligible for hire because of “attendance problems.”

“I never was counseled, let alone disciplined, for any attendance issues,” McNease said. “In fact, on the day that Chipotle announced it was closing the Augusta, Maine restaurant, [regional manager] Jarolin Maldonado called me and specifically reassured me that I was eligible for rehire.”

In response, the union filed on Aug. 4 a second unfair labor practice against Chipotle alleging McNease and other workers were blacklisted for their union activities, according to the Maine AFL-CIO.

Chipotle workers at the location on Stephen King Drive in Augusta voted to form a union in late June. 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.

But Chipotle closed the location effective July 19, the same day as the National Labor Relations Board was set to hold a hearing to determine the union election process. The location’s workers were informed of the closure in an email that morning.

Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer for Chipotle, told the Bangor Daily News at the time that the closure was prompted by staffing challenges, saying the chain went to “extraordinary lengths” to recruit new workers at the location.

But the location’s workers said the move was in retaliation for the union drive, calling it “union busting 101.” The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Chipotle, which remains under investigation. The labor board is considering whether to pursue injunctive relief, according to Jeffrey Neil Young of Solidarity Law, who is representing the union.

The closure received strong condemnation from Maine political leaders, including the top Democrats in the Senate and House, as well as U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District. Pingree called on the federal labor board to investigate the closure, saying the timing “raises serious concerns of illegal union-busting.”

A representative from Chipotle wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.