The first unionized Chipotle store in the country abruptly closed on Tuesday, according to an email sent by Chipotle corporate to employees of the Augusta, Maine, restaurant. The store became the first in the country to vote to unionize last month, and one of the employees’ main complaints was understaffing, which Chipotle said at the time the company was working quickly to remedy.
“Despite the considerable time and resources we've spent trying to staff the restaurant, 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,” the email from Lisa Zeppetelli, Chipotle’s People Experience Partner of the Northeast market read. “As a result, Chipotle has made the difficult decision to close this location permanently.”
The workers at the Augusta, Maine, location filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board at the end of June, in an attempt to have Chipotle United formally recognized as an independent union. On the heels of the first Chipotle to petition for union recognition, a Chipotle Mexican Grill location in Delta Township, Mich. filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize on July 11.
According to Chipotle United, the announcement of the store’s closure was made the morning of a hearing to determine the process of their union election and corporate then told workers they could not form a union because the store had been 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,” Chipotle United organizer Brandi McNease said in a statement. “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 said that since announcing the store’s intent to organize, the workers have been “bullied, harassed, and intimidated” in an attempt to quash unionization efforts. In addition to the store in Michigan, Main AFL CIO said that Chipotle workers across Maine have contacted Chipotle United for advice on forming their own unions.
According to Chipotle, the store in Augusta has been closed to the public since June 17 due to understaffing issues, several days before the unionization process began. Since then, Chipotle said the store was kept open for training purposes while employees continued to be paid.
“We went to extraordinary lengths to try to staff the restaurant including deploying two recruiting experts dedicated to this one restaurant,” Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle said in a 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. 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.”
Schalow said that employees at the restaurant will receive severance pay and outplacement assistance.
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