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Chipotle's shutdown of a unit kept it from unionizing. Or did it?

Working Lunch: Federal regulators could reverse the move, and the closing could spark more union drives.

A point of agreement is usually a plus in dealings between an employer and a staff looking to unionize. Not so for Chipotle Mexican Grill and the former employees of its store in Augusta, Maine, the first unit within the chain to seek union representation.

The workers said they needed to organize in part because the restaurant was chronically understaffed. Management offered no defense or disagreement. Instead, the corporation closed the unit, saying it couldn’t recruit enough hires to keep the doors open. The store went dark, but so did the local team’s hopes of unionizing.

Was it a brilliant stroke of management jujitsu, using the staff’s own gripe to thwart their organizing effort? Or was it a heavy-handed ploy that will anger the staffs of other Chipotle units enough to join a union?

That’s one of the questions addressed in this week’s episode of Working Lunch, the government affairs podcast co-hosted by Align Public Strategies principals and restaurant industry vets Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley.

They agree that Chipotle’s move is likely to rouse a quick and forceful reaction from the pro-union current directors of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that regulates union elections.

“How fiercely and swiftly they act is probably going to determine if this tactic emerges in the future,” said Coley, noting that Starbucks has also been accused of closing stores to keep them from being unionized.

The veteran lobbyists also look at how the NLRB is working with a variety of other federal agencies to protect and promote organized labor.

Check out this and every episode of Working Lunch by downloading it from wherever you get your podcasts.

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