Chipotle workers vote to unionize for first time



Workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Lansing, Michigan, voted to unionize Thursday, forming the nation’s first fast food chain union. The vote, which took place in the restaurant’s parking lot, was 11-3 with two contested ballots.

The election follows a string of first-time union victories led by Gen Z and millennials at leading companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Apple that have long evaded unionization. It also marks a milestone for the low-wage fast food industry, where unions have struggled for decades to gain a foothold due to its sheer number of locations, franchise model and high turnover.

“I’m so happy we won. Being one of the first fast food restaurants to do this definitely proves to the whole country that we can do it,” said Samantha Smith, an 18-year-old crew member who voted on Thursday. lives of future generations.” Smith, who spent two years at the Chipotle in Lansing, earns $13.33 an hour.

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“At Chipotle, our greatest asset is our employees, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve their workplace experience,” said Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle. “We are disappointed that the employees of our Lansing, MI restaurant have chosen to have a third party speak on their behalf because we continue to believe that working directly together is best for our employees.”

Schalow also noted that Chipotle offers its employees industry-leading benefits such as competitive wages, debt-free degrees, tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 per year, health benefits and quarterly bonuses for all employees. Last year, the company paid $37 million in bonuses to its nearly 100,000 employees, it said. The company has approximately 3,000 restaurants in the United States.

Chipotle workers in Lansing cited wages and underplanning as the impetus for their campaign. They said some workers at their store make about $13 an hour and don’t get enough hours to pay for basic needs. Before the union elections were tabled, organizers said some workers were sometimes scheduled for one day a week. And during most shifts, some workers have had to take on additional jobs outside of their normal responsibilities, such as operating the cash register or drive thru while preparing food, they claimed.

“There is rarely a shift where someone in the store has just one position,” said Harper McNamara, a 19-year-old crew member and union organizer who earns $13.60 an hour. “I had to do the checkout and prepare both hot and cold dishes at the same time.”

Pro-union workers also said they wanted a voice in their working conditions, claiming the company retaliated against an employee by firing them the day after they asked for a raise.

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“It would be great if you could raise workplace issues and address them, but they aren’t,” said Atulya Dora-Laskey, a 23-year-old crew member and union organizer at the Chipotle in Lansing. “They say ‘Ask us for things directly’, but if you ask someone directly, they just ignore you. That made it crystal clear that an individual relationship with the employer is unworkable.”

Thursday’s vote was the latest in a series of efforts by workers to organize after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The pandemic has led to a major convulsion in the labor market and the past two years have seen a dramatic realignment in the relationship between workers and employers. The recent labor shortage has given workers enormous power to demand better wages and benefits and also to form unions. While there has been a spike in union election petitions this year, the campaigns have united a small segment of the workforce at these companies. Many face a long road before they can possibly achieve full unionization.

For years, unions have waged costly press campaigns, such as SEIU’s Fight for $15, to unite fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King and to get management to sit down at the negotiating table with workers. But these efforts have not led to electoral victories. Most of the gains that unions have claimed have been in the form of minimum wage increases in several cities and states.

Since Chipotle applied for a union election, Chipotle brought in executives from across the Midwest and an outside consultant to discuss terms of employment and unionization in private conversations with workers.

Last month, Chipotle closed a location in Augusta, Maine, that had applied for union elections, hours before the union and management were scheduled for a National Labor Relations Board hearing on logistics for a potential election. The company said the shutdown was the result of “staff challenges,” but the union claimed the shutdown was “union breach” and intended to have a chilling effect on the organization at Chipotle.

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“Today’s Chipotle win provides more evidence that the wins at Starbucks and Amazon have lit a fuse among low-paid service workers across the country,” said John Logan, a professor of labor science at San Francisco State University. “It also shows that this generation of workers is not so easily intimidated by store closures and other anti-union tactics. We could be on the eve of a new labor movement.”

In August, Chipotle also agreed to pay employees in New York City $20 million to settle allegations that the company had violated schedule and sick leave laws for more than four years, affecting 13,000 employees. Commenting on the settlement, Scott Boatwright, Chipotle’s chief restaurant officer, said the company raised wages nationwide and introduced new policies last year.

The workers, who have been organizing since late 2021, cited a wave of union victories at Starbucks, Michigan and around the United States as inspiration for their campaign. More than 230 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since December last year.

“After seeing the wins at Starbucks, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we can achieve this,’” said Smith. “Many young people are in favor of unions, but thought it would never happen here. That realism is holding many of us back right now. By getting this far, we see that we have to try, because we can succeed.”

Workers voted to join Teamsters Local 243 after speaking to several national unions and saying the Teamsters had the most resources to help them.

“The Teamsters Union is home to 1.2 million workers, and we are all fighting for our brothers and sisters in Chipotle to get the union they deserve,” said Sean M. O’Brien, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. , in response to news that the Chipotle workers had voted Thursday to unionize with the Teamsters. “Now is the time for working people in this country to take back what is theirs.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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