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Chipotle Closes Maine Store Seeking to Unionize, Staff Say

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Staff who filed for a union election at a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine, are accusing the corporate of searching for to undermine their campaign by closing the restaurant.

The corporate notified employees of the closing on Tuesday morning, hours before the 2 sides were scheduled to participate in a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board concerning the possible election.

“We have now been unable to adequately staff this distant restaurant,” Laurie Schalow, the corporate’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in an announcement. Ms. Schalow added that “due to these ongoing staffing challenges, there isn’t a probability of reopening within the foreseeable future, so we’ve made the choice to permanently close the restaurant.”

A lawyer representing the employees filed a charge with the labor board contending that the closing was an illegal act of retaliation.

“I’m referring to this as Union Busting 101,” said the lawyer, Jeffrey Neil Young, who steadily represents unions within the state. “It’s a classic response — employees resolve to prepare and the employer says it’s closing the shop.”

The labor board will investigate the charge and issue a proper grievance if it finds merit within the accusation, at which point the case would go before an administrative law judge. The 2 sides could reach a settlement beforehand.

A handful of staff at the shop walked off the job in mid-June to protest what they said were unsafe conditions that stemmed from understaffing and insufficient training.

“Not being properly trained to arrange food has numerous risks to each the preparer and the people eating the food,” said Brandi McNease, a employee involved within the walkout and the union campaign. “You are concerned about knife skills, using equipment that’s dangerous — hot, sharp.”

Inside a number of days, the corporate closed the shop to the general public while it sought to enhance staffing, including retaining two recruiting experts, in line with Ms. Schalow. During this time, staff continued to report back to the shop, where they received some training and helped clean it, but often for fewer hours every week than they previously worked.

On June 22, staff filed a petition to carry a union election. The labor board requires a minimum of 30 percent of staff to point their support before it’s going to order one.

The hearing scheduled for Tuesday was meant to think about arguments from the 2 sides concerning the proposed election. Chipotle had asserted in filings that the election mustn’t go forward, partly since the store was understaffed and so the employees eligible to vote wouldn’t be fully representative of its eventual work force.

Mr. Young, the lawyer representing the employees, said the closing could chill organizing efforts at other stores within the chain, including those underway in Lansing, Mich., where staff have also filed for a union election, and Recent York City.

“By closing the Augusta store, it’s signaling to Chipotle staff elsewhere who’re involved in or contemplating nascent organizational drives that if you happen to organize, you is likely to be out of job,” Mr. Young said.

Ms. Schalow, the Chipotle official, said in her statement that closing the shop “has nothing to do with union activity.” The corporate said it had closed 13 locations out of about 3,000 due to staffing issues, performance, lease agreements and other business reasons over the past 18 months. Most of the closings appear to have are available in the primary half of last yr.

Chipotle has offered the Augusta staff 4 weeks of severance pay based on their hours over the past two weeks, which have typically been lower than before the restaurant closed to the general public. It has not offered to put the employees at other locations in Maine, the closest of which is roughly an hour away, in line with the corporate.

Ms. McNease said she and her co-workers planned to fight to have the shop reopened. “Nobody is bailing now,” she said.

Chipotle is amongst several employers within the service industry whose staff have sought to unionize over the past yr. Roughly 200 corporate-owned Starbucks locations have voted to unionize since last fall, as have staff at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, an REI store in Manhattan and an Apple store in Maryland.

The labor board has formally accused Starbucks of closing certain stores in retaliation for union organizing. The corporate has denied the accusations.

Last week, Starbucks said it was closing 16 additional stores due to safety concerns like crime, which it said have been reflected in incident reports over the past yr. The union representing the newly unionized Starbucks staff has filed charges of unfair labor practices, accusing the corporate of closing the stores to undermine organizing activity or avoid bargaining with unionized staff.

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