Chipotle workers welcome company’s settlement with DOJ but say more safety reforms needed

April 23, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

NEW YORK–Chipotle workers on Wednesday welcomed the news that the Department of Justice imposed on the company the largest criminal fine ever for a food safety case but said the company needs to make more reforms to address the core issues that are driving worker abuses and violations of food safety protocols. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has sickened many people across the US, essential workers like those at Chipotle and other chains have risked their health and their lives to provide food to their communities. These workers say that long-standing issues at Chipotle are putting them at risk.

In February, the National Consumers League and SEIU 32BJ released a report following an in-depth investigation with dozens of Chipotle workers throughout New York City documenting widespread worker abuses that directly affect customer safety. 

“I am glad that the Justice Department has held Chipotle accountable for their actions that have put people at risk,” said Luis Torres, a worker at a Chipotle store in Manhattan. “But even as recent as the beginning of March we had to walk off the job together to fight back against managers pressuring crewmembers to work sick while the Coronavirus crisis was escalating. We’re pressured to make the food faster and aren’t always allowed to take the proper safety precautions. We are speaking out because we just want to stay safe and keep our customers safe.” 

The government’s announcement resonates with the report’s findings, including managers pressuring workers to work sick and violations of food safety protocol and Chipotle’s own policies. For example, many workers reported manager pressure not to wash their hands during rush periods so as not to slow the line.

The report also called attention to the ineffective food safety audits, which now must be improved per the deferred prosecution agreement. The food safety audits and Chipotle’s paid sick day policy were part of a set of reforms put in place in 2016 to win back the trust of Chipotle customers following earlier illness outbreaks at Chipotle but according to workers, audits only happen quarterly, meaning that once a store is audited, the manager knows they won’t get audited again until the next quarter. 

“We applaud the work of US Attorney’s Office for working with the FDA and for holding Chipotle accountable with a substantial fine,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “This should be a wake-up call for Chipotle. For years, its management incentive practices have put profits first, endangering the safety and health of customers and workers repeatedly. Now more than ever when food safety is so critical, Chipotle needs a massive overhaul of its management and business practices to put consumer and worker safety first.”

New York City workers have also reported retaliation from managers if they use their sick days.

“Courageous Chipotle workers have stood up to demand the company live up to its responsibilities to protect the health and safety of customers and employees,” said 32BJ President Kyle Bragg. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made this more important than ever. We are proud to support workers in their fight for food safety, stable jobs with lower turnover and respect for their essential work in the community.”

Workers, 32BJ and the NCL are demanding Chipotle fundamentally reform their policies to promote worker and consumer safety and ensure that workers have a real voice on the job through their own organization. When workers have the power to protect themselves, the public is better protected as well.

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About 32BJ SEIU

With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country. 

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.