AUGUSTA — Attorneys for Chipotle Mexican Grill say the company closed its Augusta location because it was failing, not to prevent a union from forming at that location, or others.

The statement comes in response to a complaint filed earlier this month by the National Labor Relations Board alleging the company was union-busting when it closed its Augusta location as employees there sought to form what could have been the first union at the national fast food chain.

The company’s answer, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the newspaper, also claims Chipotle decided not to rehire an employee, who led efforts to unionize the Augusta site, at its Auburn location “based solely on poor attendance/job performance at the closed location,” not because of her union-organizing activities.

Chipotle’s eight-page answer, filed by two attorneys on Nov. 17, asks that the complaint be dismissed.

“The complaint rests upon a flawed theory: namely that the National Labor Relations Act requires Chipotle to (a) indefinitely keep open a failed restaurant in Augusta, Maine simply because employees there filed a representation petition with the NLRB and (b) rehire a pro-union employee from that closed location at another Chipotle location, regardless of poor attendance/job performance at the closed location,” the answer states. “In application the complaint seeks to create special entitlements and rights that would mandate pro-union discrimination or special treatment by employees whenever union organizing occurs.”

Brandi McNease, the lead organizer for Chipotle United, the union employees had formed, said Monday night Chipotle’s response was what she and others involved had expected. It contained untrue claims about her and lacked substance, she said. The federal agency redacted her name from Chipotle’s statement, but prior filings in the case confirm she is the “pro-union” employee mentioned.


McNease had filed the initial complaint with the NLRB alleging the company not only was engaging in union-busting by closing the Augusta location but also refused to consider her for a position at the Auburn Chipotle due to her union organizing activities.

“I will say that even though they responded just like we knew they would, it drove home again how important this fight is,” McNease said. “We can’t let the rights of American workers erode under rich corporations. Chipotle’s insistence that I had attendance issues even after being proven wrong and the new attack on the quality of my work, coupled with pedantic arguments about how our complaint was worded and a refusal, still, to explain why we couldn’t just operate with limited hours like every other Chipotle in Maine feels like a weak attempt to pay lip service to the law and an insult to the intelligence of the people of our state.”

McNease said she had never been spoken to or disciplined about any attendance problems when she worked at the Augusta Chipotle, where she had been rehired once after having worked there before. She said upon her return to working at the restaurant, two years after she initially left her job there, they not only rehired her, they asked her to come back as management.

Earlier this month, the NLRB filed a complaint alleging Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act when it closed its restaurant in the Marketplace at Augusta on July 19, the same day a hearing had been scheduled as workers sought to unionize following workplace health and safety concerns.

The NLRB complaint states that to resolve the charges, Chipotle should reopen the Augusta location, offer its former employees their jobs back with back pay, and bargain with the unionized employees.

Chipotle’s response claims the complaint is premised on an overbroad interpretation of NLRB’s jurisdiction to intervene with managerial decisions to close specific locations, absent sufficient evidence it did so to chill union organizing at other Chipotle locations. The company says there is no such evidence in the case and the complaint did not allege any, so the complaint should be dismissed.

It’s not guaranteed that the Augusta location will reopen, or that workers would get the restitution the NLRB calls for. The outcome will ultimately be decided by an administrative law judge, who would likely hear the case at some point next year. The judge’s decision can then be appealed.

Both parties in the case have vowed to fight, with Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer for Chipotle, saying previously the company plans to “vigorously defend ourselves on this matter” because “closing the Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine, had nothing to do with union activity.”

And McNease saying, “Chipotle’s answer of ‘nuh-uh!’ didn’t deter us. We’ll keep pressing on like we planned until our employment is reinstated, our needs are met, and we have a contract that covers our basic rights at work.”

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