Chipotle has permanently closed a restaurant where the staff was seeking to hold a vote on forming a union. The company emailed the news to employees at its Augusta, Maine, store Tuesday morning, 2½ hours before a National Labor Relations Board meeting was to begin on workers' petition to hold a vote, the Wall Street Journal reports. "We have been unable to adequately staff this remote restaurant with crew," a company statement said, "and continue to be plagued with excessive call-outs and lack of availability from existing staff." Recruiting managers also has been difficult, the statement said.
Union organizers suspect another motive, per CNN. Calling the closure "union busting 101," an attorney for the independent union attempting to organize the store said "it's meant to discourage not just the workers here, but ... other Chipotle organizing efforts elsewhere." Jeffrey Young said Augusta workers wrote a letter to the company and walked off the job last month to protest unsafe working conditions and inadequate staffing. Chipotle said it closed the store on June 17 to retrain workers and hire more. An executive said a team was dispatched to Maine to assess the situation, and the burrito chain said it thought the issues could be resolved.
But on Tuesday, the company said "there is no probability of reopening in the foreseeable future." Workers, who filed their petition on June 22, said their effort isn't over. They filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company Tuesday with the NLRB. "I was so angry," said Brandi McNease, a union organizer. "Chipotle slapped us in the face." None of the chain's nearly 3,000 US stores is unionized. Companies may close stores whose staffs are trying to form a union, a Cornell University analyst said. But Cathy Creighton said Chipotle appears to be trying "to quash the union movement, not only in this store but nationally." (Read more Chipotle stories.)