Augusta Chipotle restaurant workers may be the first to join unions after health and employment concerns

Chipotle workers embrace a Mexican grill after Brandy MacNeese, far right, dropped a speech about starting a union on Wednesday at the restaurant at the market in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Magazine

Augusta – Workers at Augusta Chipotle Mexican Grill are forming a union that could make it the nation’s first restaurant union if the efforts are successful.

The majority of workers at the restaurant in Augusta’s Marketplace have signed union cards expressing their intent to join a new union to be formed, Chipotle United, according to Brandi McNeese, a crew member at the restaurant and leader of efforts to unite fellow workers.

A letter was signed by several employees who were present in a show of solidarity to hand it together to an on-site manager Wednesday morning, a copy of which was also sent to Chipotle’s offices. It states that the majority of Augusta’s staff “wish to be represented by Chipotle United for collective bargaining purposes”.

Last week, workers walked out of the restaurant, forcing it to close, and expressed concerns that they often had to open the restaurant when they did not have enough workers to be able to safely prepare and serve food to customers. They said employees were put at risk by having to perform tasks that required more workers available, and at times were asked to falsify food temperature records, which are required under food safety rules, because they did not have the time to check temperatures like many. times a day as required.

They hope joining together in a union will help them force a change in their restaurant where, they said, crew members are like family to one another.

“I care about these people more than anyone else,” said Laramie Rohr, whose regular job at Augusta Chipotle handles her online orders, about why she signed up to the effort. “I hope to improve working conditions, you don’t have to have five people working 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, so you have the ability to shut down when you need to for safety reasons. Because we don’t want to serve bad food. We are proud We take pride in our food, we take pride in our workplace, and we take pride in our co-workers. Through this we hope that we can continue to cherish them and only grow that pride.”

An official said Chipotle does not currently have any union positions.

Brandy McNeese, right, talks to his co-workers Wednesday before dropping a speech about starting a union at the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the Market in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Magazine

Laurie Shallow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in an email that the company has received the workers’ petition and “we respect our employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair, just and humane work environment that provides opportunities for all.”

She said last week when Augusta employees raised their concerns, the company immediately deployed additional resources such as hiring and training additional staff, retraining existing staff and providing new leadership for the restaurant.

“We believe that our actions in addressing concerns raised by our staff in Augusta just last week prior to receiving notice of any petition at that location demonstrate how quickly we can respond to and respond to our staff when they directly notify us of their issues and concerns,” Shallow said.

A joint statement by a majority of about 20 Augusta Chipotle workers says they believe forming a union will help combat what they called systematic Chipotle exploitation of crew members and make it easier for them to do their jobs safely and to the best of their ability. their capabilities. They said they did not receive proper leadership training at the restaurant and that the crew did not receive formal training.

Augusta is the second Chipotle outpost in the country where workers are seeking unionization, MacNeice said, adding to efforts already underway to unite Chipotles in New York.

It will also be the second food service business in Maine where employees are currently seeking unionization, according to Sarah Benny McCabe, organizational director of Maine AFL-CIO, a labor federation.

Nicholas Dunton, left, embraces Brandy McNees after she dropped a message about starting a union on Wednesday outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the Market in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Magazine

Elsewhere in Maine, Starbucks employees in Bedford have notified the company they intend to join, to join the trend of unionized food service workers across the country.

Workers said Augusta Chipotle was not open on Wednesday and was closed all week, due to a lack of suitable staff, although some staff and management were in the store for training and cleaning.

McNeese and other workers said they are forming their own union, Chipotle United. You will not, at least initially, be part of a larger national labor union.

McCabe said she was on hand simply to help support Chipotle workers as they form a new union.

She said the usual process, once workers petition to form a union, would be for the National Labor Relations Board to vote for workers who would decide whether or not to form a union.

“Welcome to the labor movement, you guys are amazing, we are so inspired, excited and 10,000% behind you,” McCabe told workers before handing over union documents at the Augusta site. “We really want you to have that voice at work so you get better working conditions. I appreciate what you are doing to feed your community, and you deserve to be treated well.”

James Forbes, a crew member who signed the group’s letter of intent, said that sometimes there are only two to four workers at the Augusta site, nearly not enough to run a restaurant that workers said requires at least seven workers. He said that some of the managers there who train workers were not trained themselves. He said he had another job, and on some days he walked 45 minutes from his apartment to Chipotle only to discover the restaurant wouldn’t open that day. He said that if he had known beforehand, he could have worked a shift at his other job.

Schlow said that Chipotle offers industry-leading benefits like competitive wages, debt-free grades, tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 a year, health benefits and quarterly employee bonuses, and last year it employed nearly 100,000 people across America. North, Canada and Europe paid $37 million in bonuses to restaurant employees.

The statement from the group of workers, sent by McNease, said, “We hope that by forming this union we can work with Chipotle to achieve our common goals, such as safe and healthy food, a good atmosphere, the safety of happy crew members, and all the other things that make Chipotle different. We are here. Let’s make things better by ensuring we have the tools and support to meet Chipotle’s high standards while taking care of ourselves, the crew who will come after us, and other catering professionals who may see our efforts and feel empowered to stand up against the industry’s toxic culture.”

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