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06/23/2022

Report: Chipotle workers seek to form union

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Chipotle employees in Maine may unionize.

The unionization trend spreading across retail has popped up at Chipotle Mexican Grill.

According to the Kennebec Journal, a majority of workers at a Chipotle store in Augusta, Maine signed cards indicating they plan to join a new union which will be called Chipotle United. Employees at the store reportedly staged a walkout the week of June 13 over concerns of alleged understaffing and orders to falsify food temperature check logs.

Chipotle told the Kennebec Journal it immediately responded to those employee concerns with actions such as hiring and training new associates and providing additional training to current workers. Chipotle chief corporate affairs officer Laurie Schalow released a statement to CNBC acknowledging the unionization effort.

“We received notice today that a petition was filed. We respect our employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair, just, and humane work environment that provides opportunities for all,” Schalow said to CNBC.

Currently, no Chipotle locations are unionized. However, some Chipotle store associates in New York City are attempting to form a fast food union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). As of April 27, 2022, Chipotle operated a total of approximately 3,000 locations. All of the company’s stores are company-owned. Chipotle has previously said it has plans to open 235 to 250 restaurants this year (assuming that permitting and construction delays related to the pandemic don’t worsen), with a long-term goal of operating 7,000 stores in North America.

In a recent earnings call, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told analysts the company is addressing the issue of restaurant staffing. He said that 85% to 90% of Chipotle restaurants are being staffed “at model.”

“We’ll always want to strive for 100%,” he added. “But being in that 85%, 90% range is really something that I would say is better than we were pre-pandemic.”

The company has rolled out an array of initiatives to attract and keep workers, including higher wages and referral bonuses. It also is exploring ways to automate its restaurant operations to take away the parts that are not particularly employee-friendly. The company is piloting a customized autonomous kitchen assistant from Miso Robotics, nicknamed “Chippy,” to cook and freshly season tortilla chips.

Starbucks, other retailers, face union efforts
Starbucks, under interim CEO Howard Schultz, is making a concerted effort to head off a union push that is spreading among its store workers. In total, Starbucks plans to spend $1 billion on wage hikes, improved training and store innovation during fiscal 2022, with more new employee benefits to be announced in September, the company previously said.

[Read More: More Starbucks stores begin move to unionize — in the U.S. and Canada]

In addition, employees at a Target store in Christiansburg, Va., recently filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election. Meanwhile, a fledgling union effort at Amazon was dealt a setback in May 2022 when workers at an Amazon warehouse located on the New York City borough of Staten Island have voted overwhelmingly to reject forming a union.