After learning earlier in the day Chipotle Mexican Grill was closing its Augusta location, workers rally July 19 outside the restaurant at Marketplace at Augusta. Workers had attempted to unionize, and claimed the closure is “Union-Busting 101.” Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal file

The operator of a Waterville hotel has filed paperwork with the city and state to open a Chipotle Mexican Grill at its Main Street site, following closure of the Chipotle in Augusta earlier this year after employees sought to form a union.

Former employees of the Chipotle in Augusta alleged the national chain closed that site in an act of union-busting, and have filed multiple unfair labor practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaints have yet to be resolved.

Chipotle officials said they closed the Augusta site due to staffing challenges, including an inability to find enough people to work there.

Brandi McNease, a former worker at Chipotle in Augusta and a leader in efforts to unionize workers there, said Augusta and Waterville, which are less than 20 minutes apart, are essentially the same labor market, so the staffing challenges for a Chipotle in Waterville would not be any different than in Augusta.

She said seeking to open a restaurant in Waterville shows Chipotle officials “don’t give a crap about the labor situation,” and closed the Augusta restaurant in response to the union being formed, not staffing challenges.

She said when she worked previously at Chipotle in Augusta, she lived in Waterville and commuted. She said Colby College students were frequent customers of the Augusta Chipotle.


“It’s a very accessible drive. Anybody with a car could get there,” McNease said of the short commute between Augusta and Waterville.

Brandi McNease speaks with colleagues in June on the patio outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill at Marketplace at Augusta. The national chain closed its location in Maine’s capital city in July after workers sought to unionize. McNease alleges she has been blacklisted by the company for her role in efforts to form a union. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Chipotle officials said Friday they have no plans to open a Chipotle in Waterville, and again cited staffing challenges, not union activity, as their reason for closing the Augusta location.

Erin Wolford, a spokesperson for Chipotle, wrote in an email Friday, “At this time, we do not have a planned location in Waterville,” and forwarded a statement from Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer.

“Closing the Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine has nothing to do with union activity,” Schalow wrote in the statement. “Our operational management reviewed this situation as it would any other restaurant with these unique staffing challenges. Chipotle respects our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act.”

Despite Wolford’s denial Chipotle is looking to open a restaurant in Waterville, Giri Hotel Management LLC, the Quincy, Massachusetts-based operator of the Best Western Plus Waterville Grand Hotel at 375 Main St. in Waterville, has filed application materials with the city and Maine Department of Transportation, stating the company’s intention to open a Chipotle at its site in Waterville.

A hotel employee said last week she had heard talk of Chipotle possibly opening there, but was told by hotel officials they had no plans for that.


However, Dan Bradstreet, Waterville’s director of code enforcement, confirmed last week Chipotle had filed a site plan for review by the Waterville Planning Board and the city’s Comprehensive Plan Review Commission at their next meetings. He said if the site plans are approved, Chipotle would most likely submit a building permit application to the city’s code enforcement office.

Giri Hotel Management also posted a notice of intent last week in the newspaper stating it intended to file a traffic movement permit application with the Maine DOT on or about Sept. 23. The notice reports the application is for “development of a 2,325 square-foot Chipotle Restaurant with counter and drive-through window service, and 8,226 square-feet of commercial retail space, at 375 Main St.”

McNease said members of Chipotle United, the union the employees of the Augusta Chipotle formed to have the union recognized by Chipotle, will protest the apparent proposal to open a Chipotle in Waterville.

A copy of the application filed for the project indicates Giri officials plan to redevelop the hotel’s current event center and conference hall sections into a Chipotle and two commercial retail spaces. The space is on the east side of Main Street, near the intersection with Waterville Commons Drive. The Chipotle part of the redevelopment would have a drive-thru lane with an exterior pick-up window and an indoor counter service area with seating, according to the application.

The application also shows the company anticipates beginning construction in early to mid-spring of 2023, with completion that fall.

Former employees of the Augusta Chipotle have four complaints under consideration by the National Labor Relations Board, filed since mid-June after employees there walked off the job due to safety concerns and understaffing. The most serious allegations include that the company closed the site to prevent it from becoming unionized, and that when McNease tried to apply for a job at a Chipotle with openings in Auburn, using her email address Chipotle had on file, she and other former Augusta employees were shut out of the system.


Jeffrey Young, a labor lawyer with Solidarity Law, which is representing Chipotle United, said the charges are being reviewed by a National Labor Relations Board investigator. Young said he anticipates an indication by mid-October whether the NLRB will take up the cases.

He said if the union prevails on the cases, the Augusta Chipotle could be ordered to reopen, but said that is unlikely. More likely, he said, the company could be ordered to pay workers back wages and give them preferential hiring at other Chipotle locations.

McNease said 10 of the original 18 workers who petitioned to form a union have submitted affidavits for the NLRB’s investigation.

McNease, meanwhile, said she has been conferring with Chipotle workers elsewhere on forming unions, including with a group in New York.

She said her former Augusta co-workers are staying in touch with one another, and some have found other jobs. A solidarity fund has been established to help former workers in need.

McNease said she was encouraged to see workers at a Chipotle in Lansing, Michigan, become the first to unionize, something the Augusta workers could have become, had their store not been closed.


At a hearing last month before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and Labor Committee, the Augusta Chipotle’s closure and claims by former workers that the company blocked them from applying for jobs was cited by Mark Pearce, executive director of the Workers’ Rights Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, who testified in response to a question submitted by Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, through a member of the committee.

“The insidious nature of the Maine situation is you have a place that gets closed as soon as a petition gets filed, after employees were being trained to expand operations at the facility, and then they offer up jobs to the public at a location 40 minutes away, but block the emails of those employees that were working at the closed facility from applying,” Pearce testified. “That kind of devastating, diabolical activity has to be looked at very carefully.”

McNease said she closely watched the House committee hearings, which included discussion on whether the National Labor Relations Board was adequately staffed and funded.

“It absolutely helps. Anything that helps the labor movement is going to help Chipotle United,” McNease said of Augusta workers having been discussed at the congressional committee hearing. “It gives it a lot of legitimacy when the national government starts looking at it and wondering what’s wrong. It makes the struggle more legitimate.”

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