Late Thursday, November 3, the Boston Regional office of the National Labor Relations Board issued a sweeping complaint against Chipotle Mexican Grill. The complaint alleges that Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act when it abruptly closed its store in Augusta, Maine on July 19, 2022.
A hearing had been scheduled on a petition filed by Chipotle Workers United seeking to hold a union election at the store on the morning the company announced the closure. The Augusta store was the first Chipotle store in the United States seeking to organize a union.
The complaint further claims that Chipotle broke the law when it subsequently blacklisted the dislocated Augusta workers by preventing them from applying for vacancies at its other Maine stores, including in Auburn, Maine. Jeffrey Neil Young, an attorney with Solidarity Law which represents the Union, called the issuance of the complaint “a complete victory for the Union.” The complaint would require Chipotle to:
- Reopen the closed store in Augusta
- Recognize Chipotle Workers United as the representative of the employees
- Compel Chipotle to bargain with the Union
- Pay all dislocated employees back pay
- Offer all dislocated employees reinstatement
- Notify all Chipotle employees nationwide that the store closing and blackballing broke the law; and Post a notice at all 3000 Chipotle stores nationally & share it via text messaging and social media that the closing and blackballing was illegal.
“We did it! Now the country can see how corporations are working to exploit American citizens, even going so far as to blatantly break the labor laws meant to protect us,” said Brandi McNease, the lead organizer for Chipotle Workers United. “They know that they are in the wrong and now so does everyone else! Now is the time to take back our power! The Labor Movement is ON!!!”
Issuing a complaint is the beginning of the NLRB litigation process. The hearing goes to an Administrative Law Judge who hears the evidence and then makes a ruling. That decision is appealable to the NLRB.
The closing of the Chipotle Augusta store, as well as similar actions taken by Starbucks and other employers, was the focus of a September hearing convened by the United States House Labor and Employment Committee. Former NLRB Chair Mark Pearce testified at that hearing that Chipotle’s actions, if proven, were “devastating” and “diabolical.” Attorney Young noted that the relief sought by the Region to remedy Chipotle’s illegal acts was necessary to remedy the blatant and egregious violations of the law by Chipotle.
“The NLRB has many arrows in its quiver to attempt to remedy violations of the labor law. On extraordinary occasions, it has sought remedies like this to prevent employers from frustrating employees’ rights to organize a union,” said Young. “The relief sought by the Region here is appropriate and necessary to respond to Chipotle’s illegal union-busting. Chipotle closed its Augusta store then blackballed its employees to send a message not just to employees here in Maine but across the country that their jobs were in jeopardy if they tried to exercise their legal rights to form a union.”
According to Young, in addition to the broad relief sought by the Region, it also is requesting that the NLRB authorize it to seek injunctive relief under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 10(j) relief is reserved for only the most egregious cases, where delays in the Board’s administrative processes could prevent the relief being sought. A hearing in this case is likely to take place sometime next year, but injunctive relief would be sought much sooner. Young could not predict whether the NLRB will seek such relief and if so when that might occur.