Just last week, a Starbucks worker made headlines when he petitioned the company for more hours, arguing that workers were being stretched too thin due to labor cuts. Now, a Chipotle employee has penned a similar petition, arguing that the company has cut back on workers in the wake of the E. coli disaster of 2015.
Daniris Pacheco, a Chipotle employee from Massachusetts, says that the company cut employees' hours during an E. coli outbreak that affected several stores. But even as customers have started to return to the fast-casual burrito chain, the company has not made changes to raise staffing levels at a MA location, Pacheco asserts.
Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold says "there's no merit" to claims that stores aren't adequately staffed: "Our restaurants have remained fully staffed and, in fact, we've placed great emphasis on maintaining staffing levels as our volumes pick up to be sure we are providing excellent service, even as the restaurants are getting busier."
According to Pacheco, the food safety issues brought about "months of changes" at her store, including new safety implementations, new management, fewer customers and, therefore, fewer workers. "We lost a lot of business during the E.coli scare," she says. "Our hours were cut. We didn't really have a lot of customers at the time, so it made sense."
But after instituting new safety protocols (like blanching food to kill bacteria) and distributing coupons for free food, traffic started picking up. In an earnings call with investors earlier this year, Chipotle executives said management at each store has been directed to "be aggressive" with staffing in preparation for the chain's recovery. While she has noticed a recovery, Pacheco says she hasn't noticed aggressive staffing — in fact, it's been quite the opposite.
Before the scare, she says there were approximately 11 people on a shift during Chipotle's busiest hours: the dinner rush (which typically lasted from six to seven p.m., she says). "Now, we're looking at anywhere from six to eight people on a shift," says Pacheco. "The dinner rush often lasts from six until 10 at night."
The restaurant that helped pioneer the notion of "fast casual" isn't so fast anymore, says Pacheco. "A lot of our customers wait at least half an hour for their food. Sometimes we run out of products, because we don't have enough people to prepare them in the right amount of time. We will usually have one person prepping but there's so much that needs to be done, they often can't get to it all."
Guacamole is one of the first things to go. "When we're out of guacamole or another ingredient, the customers get upset, and the store gets a bad review online."
Both of the reviews below, for instance, were made on the Yelp page of the store in question within the past year. The E.coli outbreak was officially declared "over" by the CDC in February.
Takeout orders have become a problem, too. "We used to have one employee dedicated to preparing the takeout orders. Now, whoever is taking care of the customers in line will have to stop what they're doing to make a takeout order."
Pacheco says that the goal of her campaign is to ensure that restaurants are "adequately staffed with enough people to meet the vision of Chipotle as well as meet the expectations of our faithful customers." More than 270 self-identified Chipotle employees have signed the petition so far. "People from more than 30 states have signed the petition, so I believe it's a problem that's happening in stores across the country," she says.
Pacheco, who has worked at Chipotle since May 2015, says that shortly after publishing her petition, she was contacted by Chipotle's corporate office. "They just asked me if there's anything they can do, and I explained the problem. They said I needed to speak to my district manager about it, so I did. But I didn't receive much feedback from them."
With Chipotle's new rewards program officially rolling out today, the chain is hoping for a big increase in customers at its stores. Pacheco says she knows of no plans to hire additional workers to take care of them.