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Former chair of national labor board calls Chipotle’s actions toward organizing workers ‘diabolical’

chipotle_protest.jpg
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
A group of employees and supporters gathered outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill on Tuesday evening to protest the company's decision to close the location. Employees say the closure is a textbook example of union busting.

The former chair of the National Labor Relations Board called the actions that Chipotle has taken against workers seeking to unionize an Augusta store “diabolical.”

Mark Pearce, speaking in front of the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday, said that the company’s actions must be “looked at very carefully,” after Chipotle was accused of blacklisting its workers who had supported unionization efforts.

“The insidious nature of the Maine situation is you have a place that gets closed as soon as a petition gets, gets filed after employees were being trained to expand operations at that facility and then they offer up jobs to the public at a location 40 minutes away, but block the emails of those employees that were working at the closed facilities from applying,” Pearce said. “That kind of devastating, devastating, diabolical activity has to be looked at very carefully.”

The workers at the Augusta Chipotle filed for recognition as an independent union, Chipotle United, in June. The union sought recognition just a week after the Chipotle workers   staged a two-day walkout in protest of what they called unsafe working conditions. If recognized, the Augusta store would have become the first unionized Chipotle location across the U.S.

The nationwide chain then  abruptly closed the location effective July 20, the morning that the labor relations board was set to hold a hearing to determine the   union election process, Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations spokesperson Andy O’Brien said at the time. A Chipotle spokesperson claimed that the closure was due to “staffing challenges,” rather than its staff’s decision to seek union recognition, but former employees felt it was “union busting 101.”

Chipotle was then accused of blacklisting the workers from applying for positions at nearby stores after the Augusta location closed. One former employee claimed that she had attempted to apply to a Chipotle in Auburn, but found that her email on file with the company was blocked. Once she secured an interview, she was reportedly told that she would not be considered for the position due to “attendance problems.”

“The law talks about an employer has a right to shutter its business to stop a union from coming in. But if you have a corporate employer that has a cluster of business and is essentially playing whack a mole to drive out the union, I think the law looks a little bit differently at those kind of activities,” Pearce said on Wednesday.

The company’s conduct made it onto the House floor after Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat in Maine’s 1st District, called for an investigation into Chipotle’s actions after the Augusta location was closed.

“The timing of Chipotle’s store closure in my district is more than alarming, it raises serious concerns of illegal union-busting. My constituents at the Augusta store followed the rules and were well within their rights to organize the first unionized Chipotle in the country,” Pingree said on July 21. “The NLRB should immediately investigate why Chipotle— a Fortune 500 company— would turn around and shutter the first store to propose giving workers a voice.”

This story appears through a partnership with the Bangor Daily News.