Workers at a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine, filed to form a union on Wednesday, hoping to become the first unionized workers at the food chain’s nearly 3,000 locations in the country.
The workers, who have formed an independent union known as Workers United, turned in their union petition with union cards signed by a majority of the roughly 20 workers in the store, according to union organizers.
Workers say that they face long hours and understaffing, leading to safety concerns. The union staged a two-day walkout last week to protest against unsafe working conditions after repeatedly being forced to open the store without proper staffing, putting the employees and the customers at risk, they said.
When the store is understaffed — often with half of the amount of people that are required to meet demand — workers say that they’re unable to do things like food temperature checks or cleaning tables in the restaurant.
“I care about these people more than anybody else,” employee Laramie Rohr told the Kennebec Journal. “I hope to improve working conditions, not have to have five people working 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, to have the ability to close when you need to for safety reasons. Because we don’t want to serve bad food. We’re proud of our food, we’re proud of our workplace, we’re proud of our coworkers.”
Chipotle management says the fact that they responded with hiring initiatives after the walkout shows that the company is already capable of meeting employees’ concerns, but workers say that upper management has a pattern of not addressing workers’ needs, according to the Kennebec Journal.
The workers delivered a letter to management on Wednesday informing them of their intent to unionize. “We’re hoping that by forming this union we can work with Chipotle to achieve the goals we have in common, such as safe and healthy food, and good atmosphere, and safe and happy crew members, and all of the other things that make Chipotle different,” workers said in a statement.
“We are here to make things better by ensuring we have the tools and the support to meet Chipotle’s high standards while caring for ourselves, the crew that will come after us, and other food service workers who may see our efforts and feel empowered to stand up against the industry’s toxic culture,” they said.
The independent nature of Chipotle United echoes the union campaign waged by Amazon workers, who have been organizing under the independent Amazon Labor Union. Although Chipotle workers have sought help from established unions like Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), they are forming a union independently.
Chipotle workers in New York City have also been organizing a union effort, though they haven’t filed for a union petition yet. New York workers, organizing with SEIU Local 32 BJ, filed a labor complaint against the company earlier this year alleging that the company illegally retaliated against Brenda Garcia for her role as a union leader. The union also filed a complaint that the company has been surveilling and intimidating employees over the union.
If Chipotle workers successfully unionize, their victory could spark a wave of unionizations in stores across the country — much like Starbucks workers, who have unionized over 160 locations just in the past roughly eight months.