Chipotle has permanently closed a Maine location where workers were attempting to unionize, drawing criticism from organizers who condemned it as a union-busting tactic.
The store, located in a strip mall just off the highway in Augusta, recently became the first Chipotle location to file union paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board, according to the Associated Press. The matter was scheduled to be taken up at a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday, but the company informed workers of the closure in a 7:30 a.m. email, according to emails shared with The Washington Post by Jeff Young, an attorney representing the workers.
Young accused the company of illegally retaliating against workers who sought to organize. The union has field an unfair labor practice charge over the issue.
"I call it union-busting 101," Young said in an email. "This clearly was a signal to [workers] that if you organize you could lose your job."
Chipotle's chief corporate affairs officer, Laurie Schalow, cited staffing challenges for the decision. The company went to "extraordinary lengths" to staff the restaurant, which has been closed since June 17, by dedicating two recruiting experts to the location, she said in an emailed statement.
"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," Schalow said, adding that the company also has been unable to hire store managers.
"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," she said.
Staffers will receive four weeks of severance pay, according to an email to staff obtained by The Washington Post.
The AFL-CIO, which has been advising the independent Chipotle union on an informal basis, issued a news release proclaiming "shame on Chipotle" for closing the store, noting that a rally had been planned for Tuesday afternoon.
In the release, Chipotle worker Brandi McNease accused the company of trying to "bully, harass and intimidate" workers to stifle their voices and attempts to organize. She said the company is scared of workers' power, citing organizing efforts that successfully organized dozens of Starbucks locations.
"We are fighting this decision and we are building a movement to transform the fast food industry and ensure the workers who create all the wealth for these corporations are respected and no longer have to struggle to support their families," McNease said.