Chipotle permanently closed a restaurant in Augusta, Maine that filed to form a union last month.
“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,” Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle (CMG), said in a statement Tuesday, adding that it’s been even harder to find 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,” she said.
The restaurant had been closed to the public since June 17, Schalow noted, and was open only for staff trainings. Workers at the location will get severance pay, she said.
The closure has raised alarm bells among union organizers, who accused the chain of trying to stifle workers.
A hearing on whether to proceed with the representation vote was scheduled for Tuesday, according to Jeffrey Young, attorney for Chipotle United, the independent union attempting to organize the Augusta location, but workers learned on Tuesday morning that the store will be shut down for good. The hearing has been postponed indefinitely, Young said.
Young described the closure as “union busting 101,” adding “it’s meant to discourage not just the workers here, but … other Chipotle organizing efforts elsewhere.”
Workers at a Chipotle in Lansing, Michigan also have filed for a vote, And there are similar efforts underway in Flushing, Queens as well as several other “nascent” efforts, Young said. The closure “sends a message — if you try to organize, we’ll close your store,” he said.
Brandi McNease, who was employed at the Augusta location and has been leading the unionization efforts, said “we’re not done” trying to unionize. “We really want to … tell Chipotle that this isn’t going to stand,” she said. In June, a letter signed by 10 Augusta employees charged that understaffing and unsafe equipment potentially put the crew and customers at risk, the Kennebec Journal reported at the time.
Chipotle’s Schalow said the Augusta store closure had “nothing to do with union activity,” and said that the company reviewed the location as it would any other location that had staffing challenges. “Chipotle respects our employees’ rights to organize,” she said.
The battle comes at a time when a growing number of Starbucks workers have formed unions. Organizers there have also accused the chain of trying to intimidate workers by shuttering locations.
In June, Starbucks workers at an Ithaca, New York, store claimed their location was being shut down in retaliation for their union activism. The worker committee said at the time that it was filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the NLRB, alleging that Starbucks was making a “clear attempt to scare workers across the country.” A company spokesperson said at the time that Starbucks opens and closes stores as part of its regular operations, without offering specific reasons.
“Our goal is to ensure that every partner is supported in their individual situation and we have immediate opportunities available in the market,” the Starbucks spokesperson said in June. Starbucks has also closed a number of stores over safety concerns and will likely continue to do so. Labor organizers have questioned whether these moves were being made in good faith.
Chipotle workers in Augusta filed an unfair labor charge with the NLRB Tuesday.
— CNN Business’s Ramishah Maruf contributed to this report.