|January 20 protest at Chipotle restaurant in Minneapolis.|
Chipotle began firing workers December 9, telling them that the documentation they had presented to the company was insufficient to show their eligibility to work and that this would be their last day. The company said it had been the subject of an audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), furnished a list of workers whose papers needed to be checked, and had no alternative but to fire the workers.
Neither ICE nor Chipotle would say how many workers were fired, but according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, it was a substantial number of the 1,200 employees at its 50 restaurants in Minnesota.
Seven of us met in a restaurant after the first firings, Alejandro Palacios, one of the fired workers, told the Militant. We began discussing what we could do and formulated our demands on the company.
Many of us did not get our full back pay. Many of the workers did not get paid for accrued vacation time. None of us got a portion of the substantial holiday bonus we were scheduled to receive a couple of weeks later, Palacios noted.
Many of us had more than five years working at Chipotle. We were not given any time to prove our eligibility to work, although in some similar cases workers have been given three months to get their papers in order.
The main demands of the fired workers include full payment of the money due them and time to show their work eligibility. We decided to begin calling our coworkers and friends, Palacios said. The firings kept continuing through the holidays and afterward. Our meetings grew.
The company refused to talk to representatives of the fired workers directly. The company said we were not a legal entity. We were legal when we made burritos for Chipotle but we are not legal when we want the money that is due us, Palacios said. So we asked the Service Employees International Union Local 26 to represent us with the company. They agreed. No agreement has been reached between Chipotle and representatives of the workers.
The January 20 demonstration was sponsored by Local 26 and the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition. We continue to meet every week and are going to continue to fight, said Palacios.
Chipotle is a Denver-based chain of more than 1,000 restaurants in the United States specializing in Mexican food. It presents itself as a socially conscious company that uses organic ingredients and naturally raised beef, serving food with integrity.
Over the last year, ICE has searched records at more than 2,200 companies, up from more than 1,400 in 2009. The same day as the demonstration ICE announced it was opening an employment compliance inspection center in Crystal City, Virginia, to expedite audits around the country.
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