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Workers at the first unionized Chipotle are struggling to reach a contract

Union representatives from Teamsters and Local 243 stand with Chipotle crew member, Samantha Smith outside of the first Chipotle to form a union in Lansing, Michigan. The group is holding a sign that says "Teamsters" and "Local 243"
Atulya Dora-Laskey
Workers at a Chipotle restaurant in Michigan have voted to unionize, becoming the first in the fast-food chain to do so nationwide.

More than a year after voting to unionize, workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Lansing are still without a contract. The restaurant was the first of the fast-food chain's 3,200 locations to unionize.

In August 2022, employees at the Chipotle on Lansing's west side voted 11-3 in favor of unionizing, joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 243. At the time, many workers expressed being underpaid and overworked.

Over the last year, the restaurant’s bargaining team has met with company officials several times to negotiate a contract, but the two sides have failed to reach an agreement.

Chipotle employee Atulya Dora-Laskey said restaurant management offered workers a three-cent per hour raise, while "exceptional employees" could see pay bumps up to five-cents per hour.

“That made the process exceptionally aggravating,” Dora-Laskey said. “[Chipotle] is giving us just a nickel and we expect them to do better."

Dora-Laskey makes $13.25 dollars per hour working at Chipotle. Under the proposed wage, she would receive less than a 1% raise.

Chipotle reported CEO Brian Niccol made more than $17 million dollars in 2022, while the median employee's annual total compensation was $16,010. The restaurant chain employs about 98,000 hourly restaurant workers.

“Chipotle needs to start making some serious offers and not just on wages, but on seniority, sick time, staffing levels and job security,” said Peter Finn, Teamsters Western Region International Vice President and Teamsters Food Processing Division Director.

“These workers deserve the same compensation and job security that so many other union members in the service industry already have. Everything they are asking for is beyond reasonable.”

Organizers at the Lansing Chipotle report union support has grown significantly over the last year, with more workers backing the labor negotiations.

“We had a petition and almost twice the amount of people signed the petition than voted 'yes' at the election,” Dora-Laskey said. “When we circulated this petition around, we got 20 people to sign, which was over 70% of the crew.”

Chipotle staff at other restaurants have made similar turns to labor organizing. Workers in Augusta, Maine staged protests over their working conditions and petitioned for a union election last year. Chipotle permanently closed the location afterwards, a decision the National Labor Relations Board claimed violated federal labor law. The burrito chain agreed to pay $240,000 to former employees to settle the dispute.

Chipotle executives maintain the company respects its employees’ legal right to organize.

“We are bargaining in good faith on the first union agreement at our Saginaw Highway restaurant in Lansing, Michigan and firmly believe in offering our crew members competitive wages,” Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in a statement to WKAR.

“Taking specific proposals from these sessions and publicizing them without context is a disservice to our crew members. We value our employees far too much to disclose the details of the negotiations in public.”

Lansing Chipotle workers are scheduled to return to the bargaining table with the restaurant chain next month.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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