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Labor officials call for Chipotle to reopen Augusta restaurant after it closed during union drive

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.

Regional labor officials allege that Chipotle violated labor laws and discriminated against employees in Augusta working to form a union.

The company announced that it was closing the store on the same day in July that a hearing had been scheduled on its employees' petition to form a union.

In a complaint filed Thursday, the general counsel for the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board alleges that the closure and firing of the workers went against federal labor laws.

The complaint is calling for the company to reopen the Augusta store, recognize the union, provide back pay, and issue a notice to workers at Chipotle stores across the country.

"And on a national basis, it would require Chipotle to post a notice in every one of its 3,000 stores, roughly, in the United States, that it violated the law," said Jeffrey Young, a lawyer representing the workers. "And also to send to the, plus or minus, 100,000 Chipotle workers in the country, that it had violated the law. So this is a very sweeping remedy for this violation, or violations."

In a statement, a Chipotle representative said that closing the Augusta store had "nothing to do with union activity," and the company plans to "vigorously" defend itself in the matter.

"Our operational management reviewed this situation as it would any other restaurant with these unique staffing challenges," said Laurie Schalow, the company's chief corporate affairs officer, in a statement. "We respect our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair, just, and humane work environment that provides opportunities to all."

An administrative law judge will next consider the merits of the case at a hearing. The decision could then get appealed to members of the National Labor Relations Board, as well as a federal appeals court.

Young said that the decision could set a precedent for workers' organizing rights.

"Whether you're a Chipotle worker, Starbucks worker, or worker at any fast food establishments, that we're not going to allow employers to close down their locations to prevent employees from unionizing," Young said.