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January 20, 2011

Chipotle's "integrity" challenged over treatment of workers


Update: Hear an interview with former Chipotle employee Maria Cortes on the latest Radio Sustain (mp3)!

Ten blocks north of IATP's office in Minneapolis, a boisterous crowd braved 5-degree temperatures to march in front of Chipotle. The  Chipotle 002 restaurant chain, who touts "food with integrity," was under fire over its mistreatment of workers. A few weeks before Christmas, Chipotle fired—without notice—nearly 700 immigrant workers in Minnesota, and at least some were fired without paying back wages.

"We’re seeking the truth and to get the company to sit down and engage in dialogue with us because they have refused to do so," said Maria Cortes, a former Chipotle employee who had been fired along with 13 co-workers at the restaurant where she worked. "We’re here because we are seeking that our rights be respected."

Chipotle has been national leader in sourcing environmentally friendly food from family farms, often within regional food networks. The company has told the media that it is simply following the law after it was subjected to a 1-9 audit by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). But it is standard practice for employers to give employees 90 days to clear up any problems with their immigration documents, according to the Service Employees Interational Union (SEIU). Instead, Chipotle fired employees in question immediately. SEIU also believes Chipotle has potentially violated a number of Minnesota state employment laws.

Chipotle 004 Minnesota's local food leaders, including IATP, have sent a letter to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, calling for the company to pay back wages to workers, and to stand up for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Signs at today's protest stated, "Chipotle Treats their Chickens and Produce Better than they Treat their Employees" and "Chipocrisy: Selling Mexican Culture and then Selling Out Mexican Workers." A website, Chipocrisy, has more details.

"I worked at Chipotle for over nine years and always treated my job as if I owned the restaurant, wanting to do my best for my managers and for my customers," explained Jaunita Cruz, a Chipotle employee fired in December. "But getting fired so abruptly was a disrespect to my nine years of service."

Chipotle 013While the rapidly growing local and healthy foods movement has made many gains over the last several years, food and farm workers are often left out of the equation. But there can be no "food with integrity" without fair treatment of workers.

Ben Lilliston


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