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Chipotle to pay former employees of Maine store that it closed amid unionization drive

Former employees of Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta celebrate the settlement agreement they reached with the restaurant chain. They spoke outside the shuttered store, which had been closed for more than seven months, on March. 27. (Nicole Ogrysko/Maine Public)
Former employees of Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta celebrate the settlement agreement they reached with the restaurant chain. They spoke outside the shuttered store, which had been closed for more than seven months, on March. 27. (Nicole Ogrysko/Maine Public)

Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to pay a total of $240,000 to the former employees of the store in Augusta, Maine, that it closed last summer in the middle of a workers' union drive.

It's part of a settlement agreement that the company reached with Chipotle United, after the general counsel of the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board found that the restaurant broke federal labor law when it closed the Augusta store and refused to hire former employees at other locations.

Two dozen former Augusta employees will receive back pay ranging from $5,800 to $21,000 depending on the average number of hours worked, their pay rate and tenure before the store's closure last July.

"This is the amount that Chipotle would have spent on labor had they not closed down the store, and small amount of forward pay," Brandi McNease, a former Augusta employee and lead organizer of Chipotle United, told reporters Monday morning outside the shuttered store. "And it's different from regular back-pay settlements because it doesn't take into consideration any income that the employees have earned in the interim."

The former employees will also receive preferential hiring status for open positions at other Chipotle locations.

Gregory Jazowski, a former Augusta employee and member of the Chipotle Workers United organizing committee, said he's interested in potentially applying for a job at another location.

"I actually wanted to see the store flourish, that's why I fought so hard for this," Jazowski said. "I wanted this to work. I wanted this job to be a thing, so I want that again."

Chipotle has also agreed to post a notice in 40 stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts reminding employees of their labor rights and stating that it will not close a location or discriminate against workers for organizing or supporting union activities.

"We fought for this specifically because the movement isn't over," McNease said. "And every employee in those stores should know that they have rights, and that the labor board is on our side."

Chipotle employees in Augusta were the first in the nation to launch an effort to organize. They filed a petition to unionize last June. Chipotle announced that it would close the location about one month later, on the same day that the Augusta workers planned to appear before the NLRB for a hearing on their unionization drive.

The employees filed two unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against the restaurant chain.

"We settled this case not because we did anything wrong, but because the time, energy and cost to litigate would have far outweighed the settlement agreement," Laurie Schalow, Chipotle's chief corporate affairs officer, said Monday in a statement. "We respect our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair and just work environment that provides opportunities to all."

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Labor officials initially called on Chipotle to reopen the Augusta store, recognize the union, provide back pay and issue a notice to all stores nationwide.

But Jeffrey Young, an attorney representing the Chipotle employees, described the settlement as a victory for the restaurant chain's former workers and Augusta, and across the country.

“While we did not force Chipotle to reopen the store, we won substantial gains for workers,” he said in a statement. “Not all of the workers have secured work elsewhere and offering them preferential rehiring rights as well as substantial back pay helps remedy Chipotle’s blatant union-busting. The labor laws need to be changed to impose greater penalties to more effectively deter companies like Chipotle and Starbucks from closing stores and blackballing workers in the face of union organizing efforts."

And McNease added: "We got everything that we wanted. There were a few terms that we had to really sit on and insist that things went the way that we needed them to go to get the justice that everybody deserves, and we got those."

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Maine Public.

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