(Bloomberg) -- Workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. in Augusta, Maine, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the burrito-seller closed their store to retaliate against unionization efforts.

Chipotle permanently shuttered the location Tuesday, according to workers. Employees last month submitted a petition to the labor board, requesting to unionize. The group, dubbing themselves “Chipotle United,” became the first workers for the chain to file for union recognition in the US.

The new complaint claims that Chipotle violated the National Labor Relations Act by closing the store, alleging it was done “in retaliation for the employees’ forming a union and filing a representation petition.” Employees planned to hold a rally outside the shuttered location Tuesday afternoon. 

“This is union busting 101,” Brandi McNease, a worker at the location, said in a statement sent to Bloomberg News. “Since we announced our intent to unionize, they’ve tried to bully, harass and intimidate our crew to prevent them from exercising their right to have a collective voice on the job.”

Chipotle said the Augusta closure was due to difficulty finding adequate staffing in the “remote” location. The store had been closed to the public since June 17, while the company continued to pay employees and search for additional workers, according to Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer.

“Closing the Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine, has nothing to do with union activity,” Schalow said in a statement. “Our operational management reviewed this situation as it would any other restaurant with these unique staffing challenges. Chipotle respects our employees’ rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act.”

Schalow said the employees would receive severance pay as well as help finding new jobs.

Retaliation Prohibited

Federal law prohibits companies from retaliating against workers who organize, including shutting down a location in an effort to derail union activism.

Claims filed with the NLRB are investigated by regional officials, who if they find merit in the allegations and can’t secure a settlement, then issue a complaint on behalf of the labor board’s general counsel, which is considered by an agency judge. 

Those judges’ rulings can be appealed to the NLRB members in Washington, and then to federal court. The agency has the authority to order companies to reverse changes, but generally can’t hold executives personally liable for alleged wrongdoing or issue any punitive damages.

The Maine AFL-CIO, which supported the workers’ effort to unionize, said they have recently received more calls from fast food employees seeking to form unions. Chipotle workers at a store near, Lansing, Michigan, filed to form a union earlier this month. 

“Chipotle can try to bully workers and throw their weight around, but they can’t stop a movement,” the Maine AFL-CIO said in a statement. “Fast food workers are fed up with low wages, unsafe working conditions and lousy treatment. They are ready to stand up and organize for a better life.”

Organizing efforts at Chipotle echo similar flare-ups across the country. Starbucks Corp., facing mounting unionization efforts across its US locations, recently said it was closing 16 stores due to unsafe conditions for staff and customers. But pro-union employees say the closures are meant to harm their campaign by targeting several stores whose workers were organizing or had already voted to join.

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