Chipotle Closes First Of Its Stores To Vote For Union

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by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Jul 20, 2022 - 02:25 AM

In what's being decried as "union-busting 101," Chipotle Mexican Grill just permanently closed the first of its stores nationwide where employees voted to pursue unionization

At 7:39am on Tuesday, a Chipotle Northeast "people experience partner" emailed employees to notify them that Chipotle was pulling the plug on their store on Stephen King Drive in Augusta, Maine.

The closure comes just four weeks after employees petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to arrange a unionization election. On July 11, a Delta Township, Michigan Chipotle's became the second location in the country to make that move. As we reported last week, union-organizing across the country has surged to a six-year high, with Starbucks a notable target.     

For lack of workers, the store has been closed to the public since June 17, but the company kept it open for training and continued paying Augusta employees while not actually serving customers. Now, laid-off workers will receive pay for scheduled shifts this week plus four weeks of severance based on the hours worked in the last two weeks. 

In a statement, Chipotle's chief corporate affairs officer Laurie Schalow said the chain had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to staff the Augusta location, to include assigning two recruiting experts to support the store: 

“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. We have had an even more difficult time finding managers to lead the restaurant. 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.” 

Workers are planning a Tuesday evening rally to demand the store be reopened. "Chipotle is playing dirty and we’re fighting back! Join us at 5pm to protest the closure of our store and tell them that union busting is bad business! ...Bring your signs and your voices and stand up with Chipotle United!" the group said on Twitter 

That didn't last long: Augusta, Maine "Chipotle United" workers after their June 23 union vote (Maine AFL-CIO via Bangor Daily News)

The week before the June 23 union vote, employees staged a two-day walkout to protest what they described as unsafe working conditions. Specifically, in a letter to management, 10 employees said that alleged understaffing put employees at risk of cutting themselves and each other: "Prep work such as dicing and slicing vegetables is done in the kitchen during our busy times out of necessity, creating a hazard for crew members rushing to cover so much extra work around the knives."

Augusta Chipotle employee and Chipotle United member Brandi McNease told WGME TV

They waited until the morning of the [NLRB] 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.”

McNease told the Bangor Daily News:

“For a company that gave a bonus to its CEO that was 1,700 times more than the median Chipotle worker’s pay in 2020, I don’t believe for a minute that they couldn’t afford to hire a manager and enough staff to keep this store running. Chipotle has the money to attract workers and pay them living wages, but it would prefer to use it to pay exorbitant dividends to their shareholders.

Apparently, McNease knows a lot more about guacamole than Chipotle stock. The company has never paid a dividend.