Thirty-five people marched last week from a local church to the Columbia Heights Chipotle to protest how the restaurant chain fired 40 employees for allegedly lacking forms that prove they’re allowed to legally work in the U.S.
According to the workers, when they returned from a 30-minute break, they found their replacements were already behind the counter. The workers allege that they were not offered any proper notice before or due compensation after the mass termination and “could not even have a lawyer, organizer, or any other person present in order to discuss their demands,” wrote Aaron Morrissey, at DCist.
“We are here to protest the bad treatment of workers. We were fired in a very unjust manner and we feel that’s another form of discrimination against the Latino workers of this place. After they fired us unjustly, they told us they were going to give us a severance payment of $2,000 and now they have refused to follow through with that promise and we are here to demand that they pay us,” Miguel Bravo, one of the workers said at the rally last week with the help of a translator.
Chris Arnold, communications director of Chipotle, denied workers’ allegations that they were treated unfairly. He said the company is responsible for ensuring it is hiring employees without breaking the law.
“The circumstances here relate to a group of about 40 employees, all of whom provided new documents to verify their work authorization status over the span of just a few days. All of those documents proved to be fraudulent. Under the law, we cannot employ any individual who is not legally authorized to work in this country. When we communicated this to the employees, most of them simply walked off the job, others were let go. But there was no mass firing during a break,” Arnold said.
Was it true workers were not permitted to have a lawyer or other advocate present while discussing their demands?
“No. We declined to have a group meeting with employees and council members to discuss individual compensation, but that is all,” Arnold added.
Andrew Hopkins, council member Jim Graham’s communications director said that the restaurant chain addressed all of the council member’s concerns in “a number of letters”.
“We are still adamant in making sure that workers are taken care of, and paid what they’re owed, but at the same time we want to give Chipotle the opportunity to do right by these workers. Part of the reason they wouldn’t meet with us is because none of the workers had approached them with claims. Our only concern is that employees are fairly paid what they were owed,” Hopkins stated.
“We believe we’ve done everything that could be done. Clearly we are not going to go outside of our jurisdiction. We are not tampering with federal immigration law. We are not closed to the idea of exploring other options, we’re just not sure what options are available to us at this time,” said Kilin Boardman-Schroyer, legislative director for council member Michael Brown.
Some diners at the popular “fast casual” chain are conflicted about the allegations. On their way out of Chipotle, Janelle Wallace and two friends, all students at Howard University said they are less likely to eat there after witnessing the protest.
Chipotle is aware of such concerns. “We remain committed to providing the great service our customers expect of us”, Arnold emphasized. “This has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved, but everything we have done has been fully compliant with the law.”