An official leading the top federal labor agency’s Boston office accused Chipotle Mexican Grill on Thursday of illegally closing its Augusta store because the workers there had unionized.
Laura Sacks, the regional director of the Boston regional office for the National Labor Relations Board, issued a complaint alleging that the fast-casual chain had “closed its Augusta store and terminated the employees there because they had supported and assisted the union and engaged in concerted activities,” according to spokesperson Kayla Blado and a copy of the complaint obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
The Boston regional office serves all of New England, including Maine.
In addition, the complaint accused Chipotle of refusing to bargain with Chipotle Workers United, as well as violating the National Labor Relations Act by discouraging workers from joining the union, and discriminating against those who had by refusing to hire them at another location in Auburn.
“[Sacks] seeks a bargaining order, that the employer reopen the store and reinstate the employees, and make the employees whole with backpay and consequential damages for the harm they have received as a result of the employer’s unlawful activity,” Blado said.
Chipotle must respond by Nov. 17. A hearing will be held some time after with an administrative law judge.
Chipotle Workers United filed to unionize in June, days after members walked out to protest what they called unsafe working conditions and low staffing numbers at the Augusta restaurant.
The chain closed that store a month later, claiming that it had been “unable to adequately staff this remote restaurant” and that they had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to recruit new workers to no avail.
Chipotle workers alleged that the company sought to punish them for unionizing by closing the store, and said that they had been blacklisted from another Chipotle restaurant in Auburn, prompting U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to call on the labor review board to investigate the closure.
Jeffrey Young, a Portland labor attorney who represents Chipotle Workers United, called the complaint “a complete victory” for the union.
“The relief sought by the Region here is appropriate and necessary to respond to Chipotle’s illegal union-busting,” he said. “Chipotle closed its Augusta store then blackballed its employees to send a message not just to employees here in Maine but across the country that their jobs were in jeopardy if they tried to exercise their legal rights to form a union.”