Chipotle workers in Lansing fear closure after union vote

Todd Heywood

Chipotle employees in Delta Township fear being out of work after approving the store’s unionization last week, an organizer said.

“It seems clear to us that Chipotle could close the store,” Atulya Dora-Laskey said. “And if that happens, a lot of us are going to keep fighting, either at a different Chipotle workplace or a completely different workplace.”

A spokesperson for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. denied there was a plan to close the West Lansing store – the first Chipotle in the country to be unionized. Chipotle has more than 3,000.

Dora-Larkey, 23, was one of 11 workers who voted Thursday night to join the Teamsters for collective bargaining. Three employees voted no. Employees will be represented by Teamsters Local 243.

Chipotle closed the Augusta, Maine store as it faced unionization. The company had challenged a union election and the National Labor Relations Board had scheduled a hearing to hear the challenge. The company closed the store, saying it was the result of staffing issues.

“The closure of the Chipotle restaurant in Augusta, Maine has nothing to do with union activity,” company spokeswoman Erin Wolford said in an email. “Our operational management has reviewed this situation as they would any other restaurant facing these unique staffing challenges. Chipotle respects the rights of our employees to organize under national labor relations law. »

Much like in Augusta, workers in Delta Township organized in part because the store was chronically understaffed, Dora-Laskey said.

“We had a night shift, around dinner time at rush hour, where we try to run the store with a manager and three crew members,” he said. “And it’s untenable. But Chipotle doesn’t mind if we’re super stressed, because for them they make about the same amount of money. And we’re asking them individually to schedule more people on those shifts and use more working hours. Of course, the answer was “no”. But we know that collectively, if we all ask, they need to take this much more seriously.

As employees quietly gathered outside the restaurant to organize, they prepared by researching union organizing issues, barriers they might face, and which union was the best choice. Dora-Laskey said the whole process was explicitly democratic, giving everyone a voice so consensus was reached on a regular basis.

But once the documents were filed with the NLRB, Chipotle put pressure on the employees. Dora-Laskey said management from other stores was brought into the store, achieving a 2-to-1 ratio to employees. He said the goal was often to prevent employees from congregating and talking. He called it “oppressive”.

The company also brought in a consultant to discuss unions with employees, Dora-Laskey said. It quickly became clear that the consultant who claimed to present unbiased information on unionization was presenting anti-union information. This included a one-page document claiming that only 4% of employees were unionized. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 10.3% of American workers are unionized.

But the organizers had vaccinated the employees on this topic of discussion.

“We were able, before they even came out with the kind of graph, the drop in union membership, which we had talked about in the meetings, about how the drop in union membership led to a skyrocketing income inequality,” Dora-Laskey said. “And that makes sense, because if workers have that one-on-one relationship with their employers, it’s much easier to be taken advantage of, fired or ignored if they ask for too much money.”

Dora-Laskey said the union was part of a larger national movement of young workers, mostly in entry-level jobs like fast food and delivery, to find value with their employers for their work.

An August 2022 Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans support unions, the highest approval rating since 1968. It also found that 40% of union members found their membership “extremely important” .

This year has seen an organizing movement from several prominent workplaces such as Google, Amazon, Stabucks and Apple.

Despite an adversarial relationship, more than 200 Starbucks have voted to unionize in the past year. JFK8, the Staten Island Amazon, voted to unionize earlier this year. Amazon disputes the validity of this vote. He spent $4 million on mandatory union busting meetings, according to CBS.

In an emailed statement, Chipotle executive Laurie Schalow said the company was “disappointed” with the vote.

“At Chipotle, our employees are our greatest asset, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve their work experience,” the statement said. “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. “

The statement went on to tout the benefits of employment at Chipotle, saying workers can climb the chain of command to management in three and a half years and begin receiving a benefits package from around $100,000.

Ruth Milkman, a labor scholar and professor at the City University of New York, told CBS News that jobs money is not the key to labor battles in the country.

“What’s different, I think, is the zeitgeist, especially (among) younger workers who have been through a lot of unrest,” Milkman told CBS News in April. His observations echo those of Dora-Laskey. “They have these high expectations of what their work life is supposed to be like. And then they can’t pay the rent. They can have a lot of student debt. They end up living with their parents. I mean, that’s not what they were promised.

Milkman said the other impact of the COVID pandemic has been labor shortages. People have retired or left the economy, leaving a giant job hole. That, she says, is good for workers right now.

“The pandemic has also created a labor shortage, which has given people more leverage and made them less fearful of organizing,” she said. “Unions are cool again for this generation.”

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