Chipotle restaurant in Maine becomes chain’s first to file for union election

A customer carries a Chipotle bag in front of a restaurant in Santa Clara, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A Chipotle Mexican Grill location in Augusta, Maine, filed a petition for a union election on Wednesday, becoming the first of the burrito chain’s restaurants to join the recent organizing push sweeping across the nation.

The Maine AFL-CIO said that workers at the restaurant are “demanding safe, adequate staffing at their store.” The employees are seeking to unionize as Chipotle United, an independent union, according to the organization.

“We received notice today that a petition was filed. 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,” Chipotle Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement to CNBC on Thursday.

The Kennebec Journal, which first published the news of the workers’ petition, reported that workers at the location walked out last week in protest of staffing issues. Workers told the local newspaper that they were sometimes told to falsify logs of food temperatures because understaffing meant they didn’t have the time to check as many times a day as required by food safety rules.

Schalow said that the Augusta staff first raised their concerns last week and the company immediately began hiring and training additional staff, retraining existing workers and bringing new leadership to the location.

The company, based in Newport Beach, California, said it does not have any unionized locations and that the Maine store is the first to file a petition.

Workers at airlines, retailers and tech companies have been organizing, fueled by a desire for better working conditions during the pandemic and the newfound power gained in a tight labor market. Even the restaurant industry, where unions are rare, hasn’t been immune to the union push. Baristas at more than 150 Starbucks cafes have voted to unionize in the last nine months.

Chipotle employees have tried to unionize previously, but the chain successfully quashed those efforts. In 2019, the National Labor Relations Board accused the company of violating federal labor law by allegedly firing a worker in New York who was trying to organize a union.

Workers at a handful of New York City locations have allied themselves with the Service Employees International Union. They held a rally in late May for higher pay and better schedules but haven’t filed for a union election yet.

Chipotle’s workplace conditions have already come under fire from regulators and employee lawsuits. Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company, alleging that it cultivated a toxic work environment by allowing a male manager to sexually harass young female employees at a Washington location. New York City has sued Chipotle multiple times for violating its laws on giving workers enough notice on their schedules.