Chipotle workers, some on break and some off that day, chat Thursday on the patio outside the Augusta Chipotle restaurant in the Marketplace at Augusta. From left are Gregory Jazowski, Brandi McNease, Will Martin, Laramie Rohr and Anthony Worthing. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Workers at the city’s Chipotle Mexican Grill who are concerned a lack of adequate staff and training is putting them and their customers at risk walked off the job at lunchtime Tuesday.

Though they returned to work Thursday, because they said there were enough workers there that day to safely prepare and serve food, a majority of the crew signed a letter to the management of the national chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants expressing concerns that persistent understaffing puts the crew and community at risk.

They said workers there are routinely expected to complete preparation tasks that require six people with only two, and to open the site with three or four people when at least seven workers should be present.

“Both of these are not only unreasonable demands, but they put the crew and the community at risk,” states the letter, signed by 10 workers at the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the Marketplace at Augusta and sent to Chipotle management. “Prep work such as dicing and slicing vegetables is done in the kitchen during our busy times out of necessity, creating a hazard for crew members rushing to cover so much extra work around the knives. We work around equipment that could seriously hurt us if a mistake is made and some of the equipment is unsafe to begin with. Food is left on the steam table for too long, the (temperatures) go unchecked, and dishes pile up near the dish pit or on the floor, in our opinion potentially compromising food safety.”

Brandi McNease chats with colleagues Thursday on the patio outside the Augusta Chipotle restaurant in the Marketplace at Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Brandi McNease, one of the crew members who signed the letter, said workers there get no training, no support from upper management and there aren’t enough workers on most shifts. She said the lack of adequate staff means workers there don’t have time to follow food safety rules such as monitoring how long food sits in steam tables, to check food temperatures as many times as they are supposed to, and don’t have time to clear or clean tables. The working conditions and long hours, including 60-hour weeks for some, have caused high turnover of employees.

She said the workers still there now stick around because they’ve become like family to each other; they see that Chipotle, when done right, offers healthy foods including to people with allergies or limited diets. They are loyal to their customers and care about the product they put out.


“The company (Chipotle) is presenting itself as, is what all of us want to be doing,” McNease said. “Serving people good food, healthy food, in an environment they feel good about. We want this, so badly, to be the place it wants to be. We know it’s broke here, and we have a good idea how we can fix it. The customers I’ve seen here the last five years, every week, they’re so important. The people with food allergies come to us because they trust us. We don’t want to take away one of their safest and healthiest options.”

The issue came to a head Tuesday, when only two workers were on hand to do food prep, not the needed six. McNease said when she returned from an appointment, just before lunchtime that day, a worker on the cash register was doubled over in pain due to a hernia; a manager in the kitchen was simultaneously trying to put away food that had come in on a truck that morning, grill food and do other tasks; customers were waiting; and there was trash and dirty dishes everywhere because no one had time to clean.

“There was a line out the door, (and) everyone is hurt, sick or crying,” McNease said.

She said workers texted with each other and agreed to lock the doors, finish serving food to the customers already in line and close.

The outside of the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta is seen on Wednesday. Staff photo/Kennebec Journal

The restaurant remained closed Wednesday as a manager was out sick. Thursday morning workers had agreed to meet at 10:45 a.m. and leave if there wasn’t enough staff on hand. However enough staff did arrive Thursday to adequately open the site. A manager above the store-level manager showed up and helped manage operations for the day.

Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer for Chipotle, said in an email Thursday the health and safety of its employees and guests is their top priority and they are taking action to address concerns at the Augusta site.


“The Augusta restaurant is currently open for in-restaurant orders only, however, we are aware of the concerns raised and have deployed additional resources to this location,” she said. “Chipotle’s engaged and hard-working employees are what makes us great, and we encourage our employees to contact us immediately, including through an anonymous 800 number, with any concerns so we can investigate and respond quickly to make things right.”

The establishment received two “non-critical” violations at its last health inspection in February 2021, for equipment and physical facilities being “in disrepair,” according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. But it ultimately passed the inspection, in addition to one performed in October 2018 that did not find any violations.

A sign posted Wednesday on the door of the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta alerts customers that the restaurant is closed that day for lack of staff. Staff photo/Kennebec Journal

Nicholas Dunton said he was the first worker hired back in November when the restaurant reopened after a closure following what he said had been a previous walkout by workers. He said he worked through the holidays and the restaurant was short staffed, with only four or five employees, but the restaurant was expected to stay open. He said the in-store management was great but upper management was so bad workers’ needs were not being met.

He said equipment would break and not be fixed and employees would be expected to just deal with it. He had major surgery which his doctor said had a recovery time of a couple of months but he returned to work after a couple of weeks because managers kept calling him in to work.

He left about three weeks ago, but says, despite the struggles there, he misses it.

McNease said workers expect to stick to their plan going forward and won’t work a given day if there are not enough workers there to safely operate and serve food.

McNease said workers at the restaurant are now considering joining a union, potentially following efforts of New York Chipotle workers to unionize with Service Union Employees International Union. She said they haven’t yet determined which union they would join.

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