Brandi McNease announces Monday morning that Chipotle Mexican Grill will pay workers at its former Augusta location $240,000 for breaching labor laws. McNease, who led efforts to unionize Chipotle workers at the restaurant, detailed the settlement at a news conference outside the shuttered restaurant at Marketplace at Augusta. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Chipotle Mexican Grill will pay workers at its former Augusta location $240,000 as part of a settlement announced Monday morning.

The agreement comes after the National Labor Relations Board found the American chain of restaurants serving Mexican fast food had violated labor laws by closing its location at Marketplace at Augusta weeks after employees became the first in the country to file for union recognition, and by blacklisting a worker who sought employment at one of the company’s other locations in Maine.

As part of the agreement, 24 workers who were on the payroll when Chipotle closed its store at the Marketplace at Augusta in 2022 will each receive between $5,800 and $21,000 depending on the number of hours they worked and their pay rate, among other factors.

Former workers Zinnia Plourde, left, of Augusta and Brandi McNease of Auburn stand Monday morning outside the former Chipotle Mexican Grill at Marketplace at Augusta. McNease announced that Chipotle will pay workers at its former Augusta location $240,000 for breaching labor laws. McNease, who led efforts to unionize Chipotle workers at the eatery, detailed the settlement at a news conference outside the shuttered restaurant. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

The company is also offering “preferential rehiring” to all Augusta employees who notify Chipotle they are interested in continuing to work for it at its other Maine locations.

“This is a huge win for Chipotle United,” Brandi McNease, a former worker at the chain’s now-closed Augusta location and the lead organizer for Chipotle United, said Monday morning while standing with other former employees outside the shuttered restaurant. “Chipotle just got put on notice: Union busting will not be tolerated, and there’s no way around it.”

In a statement released Monday from Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, the restaurant chain maintains the Augusta restaurant was closed because of staffing and other issues, and not because of union activities involving employees.


“We settled this case before any hearing or any formal decision on the issues not because we did anything wrong, but because the time, energy and cost to litigate would have far outweighed the settlement agreement,” Schalow said. “We respect our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair and just work environment that provides opportunities to all.”

Following the announcement, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, who had called for an investigation into union busting after the restaurant’s closure, offered congratulations.

“This is a huge win for food service workers everywhere,” Pingree said. “All employees should take note. Workers have the right to organize. Period.”

In November, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint alleging the company had violated the National Labor Relations Act when it closed the Augusta restaurant, a charge Chipotle denied later that month, saying the restaurant was closed because it was failing, not to prevent the union from forming.

The complaint also alleged the company wrongly prevented McNease from applying for a vacancy at the Chipotle in Auburn, and called for the company to reopen its Augusta location and compensate employees who had lost their jobs.

Workers at Chipotle restaurants in other states have since sought to form unions, and similar efforts have been underway at other large corporations, including Starbucks and Amazon.


In Maine, nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland have recently formed a union, as have employees at Preble Street, a social service nonprofit agency.

McNease said the amount to be paid out reflects what Chipotle would have paid on labor in Augusta had the company not closed the restaurant, plus some forward pay.

It is different from other back pay settlements because it does not take into consideration income the employees might have earned in the interim.

“This is important because it wasn’t necessarily making us as whole as possible,” said McNease, who will receive $11,909.96, according to the settlement. “This was about Chipotle not saving labor costs when they cut and run.”

The California-based restaurant chain will also be required to post in every store under the northern New England regional supervisor who discriminated against the employees a notice detailing how the company broke the law by retaliating against employees, along with a commitment not to interfere with the rights of employees.

“We fought for this specifically because the movement isn’t over and every employee in those stores should have rights,” McNease said, “and the labor board is on our side.”


In June 2022, a majority of workers at the Augusta Chipotle signed union cards stating their intent to join a new union not yet formed a week after they walked out of the restaurant, citing staffing shortages and resulting food safety issues.

They said employees were put at risk by having to perform tasks that required more workers than were available, and sometimes were told to falsify logs of food temperatures, required under food safety rules, because they did not have enough time to check temperatures as many times a day as required.

Zinnia Plourde was among the former employees assembled for the news conference Monday. She held a sign that read “Respect our Right to Organize.”

Plourde said since the closure, she has spent some time being a housewife, and recently got a job at McDonald’s in an effort to make ends meet.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I was looking for a job for six months until I picked one up.”

Plourde said she plans to use her portion of the settlement — a total of $16,393.03 — to pay bills, including medical bills. She also said she would be willing to work for Chipotle again.


In Maine, Chipotle now operates seven restaurants, in Auburn, Bangor, Portland, Saco, South Portland, Westbrook and Windham.

Last fall, Giri Hotel Management LLC submitted application materials to the city of Waterville and the Maine Department of Transportation, stating the company’s intention to open a Chipotle at the Best Western Plus site on Main Street, but Chipotle officials said at the time they did not have a planned location in Waterville.

Brian LeClair, manager of the Best Western Plus, said Monday the engineering firm with which it worked put the name “Chipotle” on its paperwork, but never had a conversation with Chipotle. He confirmed there is no plan to put a Chipotle there.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder contributed to this report.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.