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Chipotle agrees to settle lawsuit charging union busting in Maine

The fast-casual chain denies wrongdoing but agrees to pay workers $240,000 to settle the case and save time, energy and cost.
Chipotle exterior
The National Labor Relations Board said Chipotle broke federal law when it closed the unit last year amid union activity there./Photograph: Shutterstock

Chipotle Mexican Grill has agreed to pay $240,000 to former workers at a now-closed unit in Maine in the settlement of a lawsuit charging the fast-casual chain with illegally trying to squelch a union drive there.

The settlement was announced by Maine AFL-CIO officials on Monday, who declared the settlement a victory for workers.

“This isn’t just a victory for Chipotle United. It’s a win for food service workers across the country,” said a statement from Brandi McNease, a former employee at the Chipotle unit in Augusta, Maine, that was shuttered last year. “It sends a message to corporations that shutting down a store and blackballing workers didn’t work for Chipotle and it won’t work for them either.”

Chipotle officials, however, said in a statement the settlement indicates no wrongdoing.

“We settled this case not because we did anything wrong, but because the time, energy and cost to litigate would have far outweighed the settlement agreement,” said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, in a statement.

“We respect our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair and just work environment that provides opportunities to all,” Schalow added.

The settlement follows a finding by the National Labor Relations Board that Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act when it permanently closed the store last year. The closure occurred on the same day hearings were scheduled to begin on the vote by workers to form a union.

The unit in Augusta was the first to attempt to organize a union, though workers at a Chipotle near Lansing, Mich., have since voted to organize, and crew members in Kansas reported unfair labor practices to the NLRB related to union activity there.

Chipotle officials at the time said the Augusta store was closed because it could not recruit enough personnel to maintain operations. In fact, one of the complaints by union organizers was the fact that the restaurant was short staffed.

Union officials also claimed that the chain blackballed members of Chipotle United from being hired at other locations in the state.

Under the settlement, the $240,000 will go to all workers who were on the payroll at the Augusta store as of July 19, 2022, when it closed. According to the union, workers will receive between $5,800 and $21,000, depending on the hours worked, pay rate and longevity.

Those workers will also receive preferential treatment to be rehired at other Maine locations for one year, the union said.

And Chipotle is required to post a notice in about 40 units in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that it will not close stores or discriminate on the basis of union support.

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