FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Workers, Advocates, and D.C. Council Members Demand That Chipotle Treat All Washington Workers with Integrity
WASHINGTON, DC — Flanked by community members, advocates, and D.C. Council members, victims of Chipotle’s Washington-area mass firings gathered at the Columbia Heights Chipotle today to denounce the burrito chain’s disregard for the recently terminated workers who had dedicated years of service to the company.
The immigrant men and women fired by Chipotle were terminated without notice, ostensibly due to discrepancies in their employment authorization documents. The terminated workers today handed Chipotle management a letter requesting that the company provide them with two weeks’ wages, the amount of time they should have received to correct their paperwork.
“We’ve dedicated so much time to Chipotle, and for them to fire us all of a sudden, and in this way, made us feel terrible,” said Yeny Portales, one of the victims of Chipotle’s mass firing. “We felt like they didn’t value our years of service and that we, as their employees, didn’t matter to them. We’re here to say that Chipotle should treat their workers with the same integrity that they claim to show their food.”
After presenting Chipotle management with the letter, the workers joined D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown and a representative from Councilmember Jim Graham’s office. Both councilmembers sharply criticized Chipotle’s mistreatment of Washington workers.
“As the councilmember representing Ward One, the most diverse ward in a pro-immigrant city, I believe it’s important that workers be treated with fairness in regard to their compensation and benefits,” said Councilmember Graham. “This applies to the recently discharged workers at Chipotle, who in some cases have years of service. I want to be certain that the discharged employees receive all the compensation to which they are entitled.””
According to worker testimonies, on March 9 workers were taken into the back room of the Columbia Heights Chipotle restaurant during their 30-minute break, at which point a dozen employees were summarily fired. By the time they returned to the front of the restaurant, they had already been replaced by workers from another location. Some of the terminated workers had been working for the chain for six years, and one was eight months pregnant when she was terminated without notice.
Mass firings have also taken place at the Woodley Park and Chinatown Chipotle restaurants, and firings at other area Chipotle restaurants are feared.
Councilmember Michael Brown expressed deep concern over the treatment of the workers, stating, “My focus, and that of the former Chipotle workers, is not their immigration status, but rather the unjust manner in which they were treated and dismissed without appropriate notice. I want to make sure that all of these displaced workers are fairly compensated for their many hours of hard work.”
Washington-area Chipotle workers are not the only members of the restaurant chain to have suffered from mass firings. In late 2010, Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota fired hundreds of immigrant workers after an immigration audit.
“Chipotle’s workers made a commitment to uphold Chipotle’s high food production standards,” said Emily Tulli, policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “Unfortunately, the company did not hold its employees in the same regard. Rather than allow employees time to correct errors in their employment paperwork, this company cut an economic lifeline for dozens of hardworking Washingtonians. For Chipotle, it seems that the integrity upon which it relies is in dangerously short supply.”
Workers’ rights advocates noted that this case underscored the need for District legislation to protect all workers who may be subject to termination.
“I’m glad our elected officials are taking steps towards introducing a resolution that would help protect future workers from being mistreated especially since it appears that more mass firings loom in the coming months, ” said Sarahi Uribe, an organizer with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “No other worker should have to endure this painful experience. Chipotle and other businesses should have policies that respect workers integrity during this process. By denouncing these practices, DC is already helping set a better standard.”
Labor leaders noted that these mass firings are part of the federal government’s misguided immigration enforcement policies.
“As a labor union representing thousands of immigrant workers, we are greatly disturbed by the recent virtual raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on hundreds of immigrants at Chipotle restaurants across the country,” said Jaime Contreras, 32BJ capital area director and SEIU Maryland State Council president. “We condemn these counterproductive actions, which disrupt lives, tear apart families, and wrongly punish hard-working immigrant workers, while forcing all immigrants — documented or not — to live in constant fear.”
News of Chipotle’s mistreatment of DC-area workers is beginning to spread. The chain is the target of a growing online petition onwww.change.org, where hundreds of women and men have demanded that Chipotle treat these workers with the dignity they deserve.
To watch video from the demonstration on behalf of DC Chipotle workers, to to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Or-rdnWRI.