- Chipotle is permanently closing a unit in Augusta, Maine, that is hosting a union organizing drive, according to an email sent from Chipotle managers to staff on Tuesday. This message was forwarded to Restaurant Dive by union representatives. Chipotle didn’t respond to a request for comment before press time.
- Chipotle workers in Augusta filed for a union election on June 22, National Labor Relations Board records show. A hearing on unionization before the regional NLRB office was postponed to Tuesday, at the request of Chipotle’s lawyers.
- The chain wrote in the email that a lack of management and labor availability motivated the store closure. Chipotle workers said short staffing and unsafe conditions were one of the reasons they were organizing, according to the press release announcing the union effort, which was emailed to Restaurant Dive.
The union has already filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB in response to the store’s closure, Jeffrey Young, the lawyer representing the unionizing Chipotle workers before the NLRB, said in a statement.
Store closures have long been a tactic of labor discipline, and Young called Chipotle’s move “union busting 101.” In a 1996 study, half of employers facing union drives threatened to shut locations, per research by Kate Bronfenbrenner, then director of labor education research at Cornell University’s New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“We don’t have management necessary to reopen and, combined with the ongoing callouts and lack of availability of existing staff, we won’t be able to open the restaurant for the foreseeable future. As a result, Chipotle has made the difficult decision to close this location permanently,” management wrote in an email sent to Brandi McNease, a Chipotle employee and union member.
McNease and other workers at the store were informed they would be paid for scheduled shifts through the end of the week, and that their benefits would continue through July 30. Chipotle offered the laid off workers three months of job counseling and “virtual sessions for personal branding,” to help workers obtain employment elsewhere.
In the union’s press release, McNease said employees faced harassment and intimidation from the Chipotle after deciding to organize. Workers first staged a walkout at the Augusta location in June. In Michigan, workers at one Chipotle filed for an election with a Teamsters local chapter in early July.
Last week, Starbucks closed two unionized stores and a third store that was considering unionizing. These closures were three of 16 cafes that were permanently shuttered due to safety concerns. The coffee chain said the stores weren’t closed in response to union organizing. But Casey Moore, a Starbucks worker and union organizer, said other stores where workers have organized have also been shut down, including a series of temporary shut downs that flooded Buffalo-area stores with surplus workers in the run-up to the union’s first elections there last winter.