New York, NY – Scores of labor activists and a large contingent of the New York City Council members rallied on June 2, in City Hall Park to demand Chipotle end what they charge is a pattern of illegal retaliation against employees who have been working with 32BJ SEIU for higher wages and better working conditions.
“The workers have not been treated fairly—they have been docked pay, they don’t have clear schedules, there have been instances of retaliation when they protest and have actions, ” said New York City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee. “In reality, this employer Chipotle is violating labor laws. For me this is important because these are my continents. These are workers across our city who serve our community and they deserve to be treated with respect.”
De La Rosa was joined at the event by Council Members Crystal Hudson, Shaun Abreu, Julia Menin, Eric Dinowitz, Lincoln Restler, Gale Brewer, Lynn Schulman, Shekar Krishnan and Linda Lee.
Chipotle workers are pressing for a $20 minimum wage from the multibillion dollar fast food giant that paid it’s CEO Brian Nicol $38 million in 2021, or 2,898 times the median pay of a store-level Chipotle employee, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade publication.
Back in 2018 in a report entitled “Defining Self-Sufficiency in NYC” published by the United Way and City Harvest, Dr. Diana M. Pearce estimated that a worker with one school age child would require anywhere, depending on where they lived, between $24.23 an hour to $40.66 an hour to get by. Those calculations predate the recent record-setting inflation which has outpaced wage gains, according to the latest reporting for Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed “real average hourly wages for employees had decreased” from March to April by .01 percent.
In a detailed response, Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, maintained the company was “committed to creating a safe and engaging work environment” as well as providing “debt-free degrees, tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 per year, competitive health benefits and eligibility for quarterly bonuses for all employees. “
Schalow continued. “Last year, Chipotle provided jobs to nearly 100,000 people across North America, Canada and Europe, paying out over $37 million in bonuses to our restaurant employees during the global crisis. Chipotle also increased wages across the country and for the nearly 4,000 employees in our 129 restaurants in the NYC area, the average hourly wage rose 11% to $17.37 per hour, the average hourly manager wages increased 8.6% to $19.98 per hour, and salaried managers earned an average $5,473.45 increase in salary.”
The lower Manhattan rally was just the latest event in a series of actions supported by 32BJ SEIU aimed at raising the visibility of the challenges faced by Chipotle workers as well as the rest of the fast food sector which relies so heavily on women and people of color.
At a May 26 Midtown march and rally, hundreds of Chipotle workers and their supporters were joined by members of the New York State Senate and Assembly as well a City Council Members. In addition to a living wage, the Chipotle workers were demanding Chipotle comply with the New York State Hero Act, which requires employees institute workplace protections from airborne infectious diseases like coronavirus, as well as recognize work place safety committees that are formed by their workers.
New York Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai and Deputy Director of the Working Families Party Sharon Cromwell also addressed the crowd.
“At the conclusion of the speeches, the crowd occupied 6th Avenue and headed north to 56th Street,” according to the Indypendent. “A police escort directed and halted traffic as the hundreds of workers shouted ‘no justice, no tacos!’ New Yorkers, either walking past or enjoying a meal in the now familiar outdoor seating options of restaurants, watched on and filmed the march.”
“At the conclusion of the speeches, at around 4:30 p.m., a group of Chipotle workers, members of 32BJ and political allies including Senator Ramos, sat down and linked arms in the middle of the intersection…..and the police moved in and began placing the demonstrators in handcuffs,” reported the Indypendent.
“The success of this effort shows that when we organize together, we can win,” said John Larkin, who works at Chipotle’s 501 7th Avenue location. “Securing a Workplace Safety Committee is a start, and we will work to make sure that it truly addresses the unacceptable safety and health issues at our store. I got burned twice from broken equipment in the kitchen. But our grievances go beyond what this committee can address. We demand truly fair schedules, wages that keep pace with the cost of living and a meaningful voice on the job.”
“Management has not been protecting us, so we were forced to take our health and safety into our own hands using the HERO Act,” said Alyssa Roman, a Chipotle worker at the 620 9th Ave. location. “As a pregnant mother, my health and safety don’t seem to be a priority. They don’t seem to care when I get sick. We are glad they have agreed to form a committee, now we demand real safety and respect. We spoke up and they offered to form a committee. This is just one step toward real dignity in the workplace.”