AUGUSTA, Maine — Chipotle decided to close its Augusta location after workers there pushed to unionize. Starbucks employees in Biddeford who were successful in their July unionization vote say they're baffled by the closure.
Augusta Chipotle employees filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board in June asking for a union election at the store. In July, Chipotle closed the store, though the company told NEWS CENTER Maine the decision had nothing to do with union activity.
Ash Macomber is a shift supervisor at the Biddeford Starbucks location and part of the Starbucks (SB) Workers United Maine. Macomber and other members of the Biddeford Starbucks organizing committee said they stand with Augusta Chipotle workers 100 percent.
Since its successful unionization vote, the committee told NEWS CENTER Maine it's seen some policies suddenly being enforced at the store. But workers have also expressed their voices more freely concerning changes they'd like to see.
The committee said there's no excuse for closing the Augusta Chipotle and added the move might rub folks the wrong way.
"But as we've witnessed here in Maine, we have the support of so many lawmakers, representatives, and the community," the committee said. "Collectively, we can, and we will make a difference, and shutting down stores is their cowardly attempt at trying to stop us."
Chipotle provided the following statement from Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer:
"Due to staffing challenges, the Chipotle in Augusta, Maine has been closed to the public since June 17. In order to continue paying our employees, we kept the restaurant open for training while we went to extraordinary lengths to try to staff the restaurant, including deploying two recruiting experts dedicated to this one restaurant. Despite these efforts, 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. We have had an even more difficult time finding 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. The employees at our Augusta restaurant will receive severance pay and outplacement assistance."
The corporation said it respects its employees' right to organize under the National Labor Relations Act.
When asked if Chipotle is evaluating other Maine restaurants for closure and if those locations face similar staff shortages, a spokesperson for the company said, "No."
The Biddeford Starbucks organizing committee said it would still recommend Maine restaurant workers interested in unionization move forward with their efforts.
"We've got each other's backs, and please reach out to us for support! Don't let this union-busting attempt in Augusta scare you away from sharing your voice in your workplace and making a long-lasting impact," the committee said.
As for whether workers are concerned the Biddeford Starbucks might be closed, the committee said, "It definitely is a scary thought considering some of the Starbucks locations across the country that have been closed, that were considered otherwise profitable. At the end of the day, it never stops the workers from fighting for their rights. This is not a moment. It's a movement."
Augusta Chipotle organizers plan to ask the NLRB to file an injunction that would prevent Chipotle from closing the Augusta store and allow the union election to go forward.
NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Jeffrey Young, an attorney for the Augusta Chipotle organizers. This article will be updated when he responds.