“We have been unable to adequately staff this remote restaurant and continue to be plagued by excessive calls and unavailability of existing staff,” said Laurie Schalow, director of general affairs at Chipotle (GCM)said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that it was even harder to find managers to run the restaurant.
“Due to these ongoing staffing issues, there is no likelihood of reopening in the foreseeable future, so we have 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 only open for staff trainings. On-site workers will receive severance pay, she said.
The closure 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, an attorney for Chipotle United, the independent union trying to organize the Augusta site, but workers learned Tuesday morning that the store would be permanently closed. . The hearing has been postponed indefinitely, Young said.
Young called the closure “union-busting 101,” adding “it’s meant to discourage not only workers here, but … other Chipotle organizing efforts elsewhere.”
Workers at a Chipotle in Lansing, Michigan, also called for a vote, and similar efforts are underway in Flushing, Queens, along with 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 worked at the Augusta site and led the organizing efforts, said “we’re not done” trying to organize. “We really want to…tell Chipotle this isn’t going to last,” she said. In June, a letter signed by 10 Augusta employees blamed understaffing and unsafe equipment for potentially putting 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 the company has been reviewing the location as it would any other location that had issues of staff. “Chipotle respects the rights of our employees to organize,” she said.
The battle comes at a time when a growing number of Starbucks workers have formed unions. Organizers also accused the chain of trying to intimidate workers into closing venues.
In June, Starbucks employees at a store in Ithaca, New York, claimed their store was closed in retaliation for their union activism. The workers’ committee said at the time it was filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB, alleging Starbucks was making a “clear attempt to scare workers across the country.” A company spokesperson said at the time that Starbucks was opening and closing stores as part of its regular operations, without providing specific reasons.
“Our goal is to ensure that each partner is supported in their individual situation and we have immediate market opportunities available,” the Starbucks spokesperson said in June. Starbucks has also closed a number of stores for safety reasons and will likely continue to do so. Union organizers questioned whether these measures were taken in good faith.
Chipotle workers in Augusta filed an unfair labor charge with the NLRB on Tuesday.
– Ramishah Maruf of CNN Business contributed to this report.