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Michigan Chipotle Location Becomes the Chain’s First to Unionize

Though a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine filed for a union election in June, the chain closed the location a few weeks later

Woman wearing apron with “Chipotle” written on it behind the counter at a restaurant. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The growing wave of food service industry unionization efforts across the country continues: Workers at a Chipotle location in Lansing, Michigan voted to unionize last week, establishing the first union in the store’s 3,000 locations, according to a press release from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Motivating unionization efforts at this location are low wages, too few hours, and tasks “outside their normal responsibilities,” according to the Washington Post, with some workers at the location earning $13 an hour. (While the minimum wage in Michigan is currently $9.87, $15.65 is considered a living wage for a single adult with no children in Lansing, according to the Living Wage Calculator.)

“In addition to the security of a powerful Teamster contract, workers are forming a union to improve their work schedules, increase wages, and gain the respect from management that they’ve rightfully earned,” the release reads. It also notes that, with the company pulling in $7.5 billion in revenue last year — a 26 percent increase year-over-year from 2020 — Chipotle can afford to meet its workers’ demands.

“At Chipotle, our employees are our greatest asset, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve upon their workplace experience,” as Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement. “We’re disappointed that the employees at our Lansing, MI restaurant chose to have a third party speak on their behalf because we continue to believe that working directly together is best for our employees.” Schalow mentioned benefits including tuition reimbursement, health benefits, and bonuses totalling to $37 million to its 100,000 workers last year, according to the Post.

Unionization efforts have been building at Chipotle. Though the Lansing location was the first to officially unionize, a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine was the first to file for a union election, which it did on June 22 of this year. On July 19, however, Chipotle announced the closure of that location, in a move organizers have called “union busting 101.” (The company cited “staffing challenges” as the reason for its closure.)

Chipotle workers in New York — which sued the chain in 2019 for violating the city’s Fair Workweek Law — are also working to form a union with 32BJ SEIU. Chipotle has long had high-profile labor issues: In 2020, it was fined $1.4 million for violating Massachusetts child labor laws, with more than 13,000 violations from 2015 to 2019.

NPR reported in May that union election petitions were up 57 percent in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The accommodations and food services industry accounted for 27.5 percent of all of those union election petitions — a change driven, in large part, by the unionization efforts at Starbucks. The Lansing location is the first for Chipotle; it likely won’t be the last.