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Fearing they were being replaced, several employees of Grand Forks Taco Bell walk off job, forcing closure

Taco Bell in Grand Forks (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)

The Grand Forks Taco Bell was closed Friday after several employees walked off the job thinking they were being replaced, but the the fast food chain said it never intended to fire anyone.

The restaurant at 1301 S. Washington St. was closed early Friday, with its lights shut off and doors locked. Taco Bell employee Mark Dunham said he was told the store would be closed that day because half of the eatery's employees quit.

"Half of the staff quit because corporate's coming in on (Nov.) 9 and we were told they are going to be training in new people and then we're fired," Dunham said. "That's the word they used: fired."

Taco Bell brought workers from other locations to Grand Forks to reopen the restaurant by mid-afternoon, said Laura Nedbal, a corporate spokeswoman for the fast food chain. She confirmed the Nov. 9 training and that the eatery was hiring.

"There was a miscommunication that resulted in some employees walking out," Nedbal said. "There was never any intent to let anyone go. It was just routine training."

Dunham, who has worked with Taco Bell for less than a year, said the news that the current employees would apparently lose their jobs came earlier this week. On Wednesday, customers were greeted by a sign posted at the restaurant's drive-thru saying it was "closed due to abandonment." Taco Bell staff said an angry ex-worker posted the sign.

But Dunham said the sign was posted by an employee who still worked there.

"It was put up as a joke by a current employee," he said. "He meant nothing by it other than, at the time, they were feeling abandoned because the owner wasn't doing anything, corporate wasn't doing anything, the managers weren't doing anything to rectify the problem until they told us they were training new personnel."

Regional management with Taco Bell previously told the Herald the Grand Forks restaurant was "suffering pretty hard" and struggled to find qualified workers in a tight hiring market, adding it had a plan to improve operations there.

Local management deferred questions to a regional general manager based in Fargo, who did not return a message left for comment.

Corporate is looking into where the miscommunication occurred, Nedbal said.

"The franchisee organization is calling each employee personally to offer them a chance to continue with the training," she said. "Otherwise, if they want to leave on their own volition, they can."

Dunham said he would like to continue to work for Taco Bell if management lets him, but he's not worried about finding another job in Grand Forks. He said other employees, including local management, have jobs lined up.

"There are jobs all over Grand Forks," he said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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