Chipotle workers vote to unionize for the first time

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

The election follows a string of first-time union victories led by Gen Z and millennial workers at leading companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Apple which have long escaped 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 the large number of locations, franchise model and high turnover.

“I’m so excited that we won. To be one of the first fast food restaurants to do this definitely proves to the whole country that we can do this,” said 18-year-old team member Samantha Smith. who voted Thursday. “This is a huge first step towards achieving this and improving the lives of future generations.” Smith, who has worked at Chipotle in Lansing for two years, earns $13.33 an hour.

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“At Chipotle, our employees are our greatest asset, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve their work experience,” said Laurie Schalow, director of general affairs at Chipotle. “We are disappointed that the employees of our Lansing, Michigan restaurant have chosen to have a third party speak on their behalf, as 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 salaries, debt-free degrees, tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 per year, health benefits and quarterly bonuses for all. the employees. Last year, the company paid $37 million in bonuses to its nearly 100,000 workers, he said. The company has approximately 3,000 restaurants in the United States.

Chipotle workers in Lansing cited wages and under-working hours as the driving force behind their campaign. They said some employees at their store were making around $13 an hour and not working enough hours to afford basic necessities. Before filing the union elections, organizers said some workers were sometimes scheduled for one day a week. And during most shifts, some workers have had to take on additional duties outside of their normal responsibilities, such as running the cash register or serving the drive-thru while preparing food, they alleged.

“Rarely is there a shift where someone in the store only works one position,” said Harper McNamara, a 19-year-old crew member and union organizer who earns $13.60 an hour. “I had to do cash register and prepare hot and cold food at the same time.”

Pro-union workers also said they wanted their voices heard on their working conditions, saying the company retaliated against a worker by firing him the day after he demanded a raise.

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“It would be nice if you could raise issues in the workplace and they were resolved, but they are not,” Atulya Dora-Laskey, 23-year-old crew member and labor organizer at Chipotle, told Lansing. “They say, ‘Ask us for things directly’, but if you ask someone directly, they just ignore you. It made it clear that a one-to-one relationship with the employer is unworkable.

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

The pandemic has caused a major jolt in the labor market and there has been a dramatic realignment in the relationship between workers and employers over the past two years. The recent labor shortage has given workers enormous leverage to demand better wages and benefits and also to form unions. Yet, although there has been an increase in union campaign petitions this year, the campaigns have organized a small fraction of the workforce in these companies. Many of them have a long way to go before they can achieve full unionization.

For years, unions have waged costly pressure campaigns, such as SEIU’s Fight for $15, to organize fast-food industry chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, and to pressure management to sit down at the bargaining table with the workers. But these efforts did not result in electoral victories. Most of the gains claimed by the unions came in the form of minimum wage increases in several cities and states.

Since filing a union election, Chipotle has brought in managers from the Midwest and an outside consultant to discuss working conditions and unionization with workers in private conversations.

Last month, Chipotle closed a location in Augusta, Maine, which had filed for a union election, hours before the union and management were scheduled to attend a National Labor Relations Board hearing on the logistics of a possible election. The company said the closure was due to “staffing challenges,” but the union claimed the closure was “union busting” intended to have a chilling effect on organizing at Chipotle.

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“Today’s Chipotle victory provides further evidence that the Starbucks and Amazon victories have lit a fuse among low-wage service workers nationwide,” said John Logan, professor of social studies. at San Francisco State University. “It also shows that this generation of workers is not so easily intimidated by store closures and other union-busting tactics. We could be at the dawn of a new labor movement.

In August, Chipotle also agree to pay New York workers $20 million to settle charges that the company violated scheduling and sick leave laws for more than four years, affecting 13,000 employees. In response to the settlement, Chipotle restaurant manager Scott Boatwright said the company raised wages nationwide last year and introduced new policies.

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

“After seeing the wins at Starbucks, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we can accomplish this,'” Smith said. “A lot of young people are in favor of unionization, but thought it would never happen here. This realism is what is holding many of us back right now. Getting this far shows us that we have to try, because we can succeed.

The workers voted to join Teamsters Local 243, after speaking with several national unions, saying the Teamsters had the most resources to help them.

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

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