WORK-LIFE BALANCE / SEP. 16, 2014
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Chipotle Employees Stage Walkout for Alleged Labour Law Violations

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Underneath Chipotle’s warm smells of fresh tortillas, cilantro and lime, there are reportedly some really rotten labour practices, says the New York Daily News. One of the national chain restaurants, located at Penn State University, was shut down last week after allegations from employees that they were forced to work in “sweatshop-type conditions”.

It was Wednesday morning when some hungry burrito and taco enthusiasts dropped by the local franchise only to find a notice taped to the window stating:

"Want to know why we’re closed? Ask our corporate offices why their employees are forced to work in borderline sweatshop conditions.” In addition, the sign contained a simple request for Chipotle’s patrons: help spread the word via social media using #Chipotle or #Chipotleswag.

One of the former managers, Brian Healy who had apparently posted the note before staging the walkout with staff, said that the store was “extremely understaffed” and Chipotle had refused to offer any much-needed assistance, according to the Onward State, PSU’s newspaper. Healy, who had worked as a part-time manager for over two years, also described to the Onward State the alleged poor-working conditions that occurred at the trendy eatery.

When running the restaurant required over 10 workers, Healy explained, there were only six to eight scheduled. As a result, employees were required to work longer shifts of approximately 10 to 12 hours without any lunch breaks. A few days before the protest, Healy added, the store had lost some great employees with a few managers quitting as well. So the morning before the closure, Healy and another manager agreed to stage the protest after yet another employee had suddenly resigned.

“We just felt neglected,” Healy told the Onward State. “…Working conditions are heinous. I’m not trying to take down the Chipotle Corporation; I just want to see people treated better. We’re not trying to start a strike or anything like that.”

According to the New York Daily News, it had taken the folks at the corporate office a few hours to discover the campus chain uprising. Around lunchtime, a regional manager from Pittsburg had finally showed up to the location and addressed the staff, which was captured on video. Then the protest notice had vanished from the window around 1 p.m.; but not before the school newspaper had contacted Chipotle for comment; and had received the following response:

Thank you for taking the time to write us about our Penn State University restaurant. Unfortunately we had to close this location after a few employees quit, locking out a majority of others who are enthusiastic to return to work. We expect the restaurant to re-open shortly. I’m sorry for any inconveniences this may have caused you. We hope to see you again soon.

It wasn’t until a little after five when the remaining employees started to mash the avocados, chop the romaine lettuce, and fill the corn shells with meat at the Penn State University Chipotle. But before they start to pack those legendary burrito bowls, a quick tutorial on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) seems to be appropriate here.

The FLSA, which sets standards for both the private and public sectors, was established to protect U.S. employees like the ones who work for Chipotle. The enforcer or the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for the FLSA and regulations such as minimum wage, recordkeeping, child labour, family and medical leave, migrant and seasonal worker protections, and yes, overtime pay among other federal laws. On the agency’s website, representatives claim to be “committed to ensuring that workers in this country are paid properly and for all the hours they work ….”

So before shutting down the pinto or black bean production, the next time Chipotle’s angry workers can go to and simply file a complaint.

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