Brandi McNease, right, talks to co-workers in June before dropping off a letter about starting a union at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in the Marketplace at Augusta. The national chain later closed its restaurant in Maine’s capital city. McNease said she was denied an interview at the Auburn location and believes she is being blacklisted by the company for unionizing. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — A former employee at Augusta’s now-closed Chipotle restaurant says she was initially blacklisted from applying for a job at the company’s Auburn store, and was later denied an interview.

Brandi McNease, who was a leader in the effort to form a union at the Augusta store — the first ever for the company — filed a complaint about unfair labor practices last week with the National Labor Relations Board.

This brings to four the number of cases filed with the federal agency about Chipotle Mexican Grill by Augusta employees since the employees first signaled their intent to form a union in mid-June after walking off the job over safety concerns.

McNease said when she tried last week to apply for a position in Auburn with the email address Chipotle had on file, she was shut out of the system, as were other former employees.

When she created a new email and applied, McNease was offered an interview. But on the day of the interview, she was told the interview was being canceled and she would not be considered for employment because of attendance issues.

Brandi McNease chats with colleagues in June on the patio outside the Augusta Chipotle restaurant in the Marketplace at Augusta. The national chain closed its location in Maine’s capital city last month after workers sought to unionize, and McNease said she believes she is now being blacklisted by the company as a result. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“It seems very obviously to not be an attendance thing,” McNease said Tuesday. “Considering I had never even been spoken to about attendance and this (manager) seemed to understand, whether it was spoken or not, that that was why we’re having an issue.” 


McNease made those comments before she and others traveled to Auburn on Tuesday to talk to some Chipotle customers. According to a post by McNease on the Facebook page supporting the Augusta Chipotle workers, they were active for about 15 minutes before they were asked to leave under threat of the police being called.

Company officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Previously, company officials have said the Augusta restaurant closed due to staffing challenges as the company has been unable to staff the restaurant. While the company said it brought in two recruiting experts to fill vacancies, it was unable to do so.

“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 for Chipotle, said in an email at the time. “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.”

In June, the unemployment rate in Kennebec County was 2.9%.

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency whose charge it is to protect the rights of private sector employees to improve their working conditions and wages, with or without a union. The four cases on file with the agency include this latest allegation about blacklisting, but also the closure of the store and the refusal to allow employees to wear their union insignia.


The outside of the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta is seen in June. The national chain closed its location in Maine’s capital city last month. Kennebec Journal file

Jeffrey Young, principal at the law firm Solidarity Law who is representing the union, said Tuesday that the process of adjudicating these complaints at the National Labor Relations Board is both long and drawn out, and that typically favors employers who want to postpone and delay.

“We’ve been really working for two things,” Young said. “One is to hold the election and count the ballots, because we believe that if the election is held and the ballots are counted, the union will prevail.”

If the union does prevail, the company would have to engage in effects bargaining — bargaining over the effect the closing has on the employees.

“They could bargain for more severance pay. To the extent some are receiving health benefits, they could bargain for continued health benefits for a period of time. They could potentially bargain over getting preferential hiring at other Chipotle locations,” Young said. “Pretty much anything you could imagine that would help an employee who has lost his or her job get back on their feet.”

While the employees were offered four weeks of severance pay, Young said based on the recent hours worked, that would not amount to much. For example, for McNease, he said, that amounts to 36 hours of pay.

“We want to see them offer the opportunity to transfer to other Chipotle locations, and apparently the company did not make that offer,” he said, “even though the company needs workers in Auburn, which is roughly by Google Maps 42 minutes distant from the Augusta store.”


In late July, the publicly traded company announced its financial results for the three-month period that ended June 30, including a 37.5% increase in operating income and a 10.1% increase in sales at company restaurants open at least a year. Total revenue for the period was $2.2 billion, an increase of 17% over the same period in 2021.

And during those three months, the company opened 42 new restaurants, including a “Chipotlane” drive-through restaurant, bringing the total of restaurants to 2,999 as of June 30. It also permanently closed one restaurant and relocated three.

The closure of the Augusta restaurant is expected to be included in the next quarterly report, which is likely to be issued in October.

McNease, who first started working for the company in 2016, said she likes a lot about Chipotle including how it has sourced its ingredients and how the company’s progressive culture drew in a lot of like-minded people, who enjoyed working there. But since then, she said, things have changed.

“You can found an entire company on the idea of being earth-friendly and human-friendly and progressive and social and all of these things,” she said, “but when it comes down to it, you’re a publicly held company and you’re going to make money.”

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