Chipotle Is Facing Union Busting Allegations. Here's Why

A coincidence? Or a strategic move to quash a growing labor movement? It's a tough call, but workers at an Augusta, Maine, Chipotle are crying foul over the company's decision to shutter the location just weeks after employees filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to vote on unionizing (via The Wall Street Journal).

Filing a petition to vote is the first step for a group interested in unionizing. According to, organizers at the local level must prove at least 30% of workers support the petition before the NLRB will consider taking action. If the petition meets that requirement, the board will assign a representative to review specifics and, if appropriate, set a date for a secret ballot vote to take place as soon as possible after the petition is approved. If the bid to unionize passes, the NLRB certifies the group and the union becomes its designated and exclusive collective-bargaining representative.

It could be a straightforward process, assuming a majority of the workers are on board. But that's not always the case. In the current economic climate, forming a union is a David-and-Goliath-like feat. According to The New York Times, unions have consistently lost leverage since the mid-20th century. At the same time, the average revenue for the world's largest companies has tripled since the early 2000s, which could mean they potentially have plenty of money kicking around to do whatever it takes to keep unions at bay. 

An abrupt closure raises questions

That is what might have happened in Augusta, Maine, where Chipotle abruptly closed the store in mid-July just hours before a scheduled NLRB hearing was set to commence. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the burrito giant claimed the decision to shutter the store was due solely to ongoing staffing shortages. Workers, who are now unemployed, counter the move was a heavy-handed scare tactic designed to make workers company-wide think twice before initiating a union effort.

The timing of the closure is indeed suspect. In addition to announcing the decision just hours before the NLRB hearing, the abrupt closure follows a statement in late June by Marissa Andrada, chief people officer for Chipotle, who said at The Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum that corporate representatives that met with workers at the Augusta location were confident the company could mitigate workers' concerns about training and staffing.

But just a few weeks later, on the day of the scheduled hearing, workers at the Augusta location received an email, confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, stating, "We don't have management necessary to reopen and, combined with the ongoing callouts and lack of availability of existing staff, we won't be able to open the restaurant for the foreseeable future."

A regulatory filing cited by The Wall Street Journal shows Chipotle operated 3,000 stores nationwide at the end of 2021. Currently, none are union-affiliated, but a store in Lansing, Michigan, has filed an NLRB petition.