Fast-food chain Chipotle has agreed to pay $240,000 to settle a complaint filed by former employees who alleged that the company violated federal law by shutting down a restaurant where staff were attempting to unionize. The dispute began when workers at the Augusta, Maine location filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Chipotle subsequently closed the restaurant, a move that was later deemed illegal by the NLRB.
Under the terms of the settlement, two dozen former employees will receive payments from Chipotle and be added to a preferential hiring list for the chain’s other locations in Maine. The Augusta outlet was the first in the Chipotle chain to file a union petition.
The settlement marks the latest chapter in a series of legal battles between fast-food workers and their employers over unionization efforts. The fight for better pay and working conditions has gained momentum in recent years, with employees at chains such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King joining forces to demand changes. Critics argue that the fast-food industry relies on low-wage workers to maintain its profits, while labor activists maintain that such workers deserve better treatment and higher wages.
As part of the settlement agreement, Chipotle is required to display a notice in dozens of its New England stores stating that it will not engage in store closures or discriminatory behavior against employees who support unionization efforts. The settlement follows a complaint filed by former employees who alleged that Chipotle violated federal law by shutting down a restaurant where workers were attempting to unionize.
Lead organizer of the union drive, Brandi McNease, who was also a former employee of the Augusta store, praised the settlement as a message to corporations that shutting down stores and retaliating against workers who support unions is not an effective strategy. She made the statement in a press release provided by the Maine AFL-CIO. The settlement is the latest in a series of legal battles between fast-food workers and their employers over unionization efforts. The fight for better wages and working conditions has been gaining momentum in recent years, with workers at major chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King advocating for change. While labor activists argue that fast-food chains rely on low-wage workers to maintain profits, critics maintain that such workers do not have the necessary skills or experience to demand higher wages.
Settlement cheaper than court battle, Chipotle says
In response to the settlement, Chipotle released a statement explaining that they chose to settle the lawsuit because the legal battle would have been too costly and burdensome. The company stated that it respects the rights of its employees to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act and is dedicated to providing a fair and equitable workplace with equal opportunities for all. Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer for the company, emphasized that they settled the case not because they were in the wrong, but because the expenses and time required to litigate would have been excessive.
The Augusta location of Chipotle closed down in the summer of last year, and workers alleged that the closure was a form of retaliation for their unionization efforts. However, the company maintains that the closure was not related to the workers’ attempts to unionize.
According to union officials, the settlement agreement between Chipotle and its former employees stipulates that the payments received will be based on the workers’ average hours worked, pay rate, and length of employment prior to the closure of the restaurant. At present, there are 10 other ongoing unfair labor practice cases against Chipotle, as confirmed by Kayla Blado, a spokesperson with the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs. However, parties have already reached a settlement for four of these cases as of January.
Moreover, last September, workers at a Chipotle branch in Lansing, Michigan, voted to establish a union. These developments reflect a growing movement among fast-food workers to demand better pay and working conditions, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the fight for better wages and benefits has been met with resistance from some employers, labor advocates remain committed to supporting workers in their efforts to organize and collectively bargain for their rights.