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Augusta Chipotle Workers File to Form Independent Union

Andy O’Brien
01 Jul, 2022
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Last week, a majority of the 20 workers at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Augusta filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form an independent union, Chipotle United. The workers organized themselves and did not receive support from any national union. If successful, this would be the first unionized Chipotle restaurant in the country, according to a Chipotle spokesperson.

"We believe that [by forming a union] we will help combat Chipotle’s systemic exploitation of crew members and make it possible for us to do our jobs safely and to the best of our ability at all times," said Chipotle worker Brandi McNease said in a statement. "We’re hoping that by forming this union we can work with Chipotle to achieve the goals we have in common, such as safe and healthy food, a good atmosphere, safe and happy crew members, and all of the other things that make Chipotle different.”

The workers signed a letter stating their desire to be “represented by Chipotle United for the purposes of collective bargaining” and hand delivered  to a manager on June 22 with local media present. Unfortunately, the company chose not to voluntarily recognize the union and is already waging an anti-union campaign to harass and intimidate workers into voting against forming a union when the secret ballot election is held. A date for the NLRB election has not been set.

The decision to unionize, followed a walk out of Augusta Chipotle workers two weeks ago to protest unsafe working conditions and demand that the company hire more staff and offer better training and support for employees. In a letter to management, the workers complained that food safety is being compromised due to short staffing and lack of training.

McNease described a number unsafe conditions, including gas leaks, equipment that had to be used improperly to bypass safety switches, lights falling out of the ceiling, exposed wires by the dish sink and drains “so clogged or slow moving the smell travels throughout the kitchen and into front of house.”

Workers also complained that there has been the potential of cross contamination of food and that they were told to falsify mandatory logs of food temperatures because they didn’t have enough time to check temperatures as many times a day as required. 

“Many of us came here because we believed in the food quality standards and company values touted in our advertising," they wrote. "This store is important to us, important enough that we want to stay and see real changes that allow us and our customers to be safe and happy.”

The Chipotle workers say that by forming a union they hope to bargain for better wages and safer working conditions that will benefit not only Chipotle employees, but their loyal customers.

“I care about these people more than anybody else,” Chipotle employee Laramie Rohr, told the Kennebec Journal. “I hope to improve working conditions, not have to have five people working 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, to have the ability to close when you need to for safety reasons. Because we don’t want to serve bad food. We’re proud of our food, we’re proud of our workplace, we’re proud of our coworkers. And hopefully with this we can continue to be proud of them and only grow that pride.”