In a series of actions this week, Chipotle workers are telling their employer they want to be able to follow federal guidelines to prevent spread of Coronavirus without facing retaliation
NEW YORK—As public concerns increase over COVID-19 outbreak nationally and in New York, Chipotle workers and their supporters walked out on Friday from a midtown outlet, the latest in a series of protests at New York outlets of the fast–casual chain, to call attention to being forced to work sick, one of the practices that workers say they want Chipotle to stop.
Workers charge that Chipotle outlets routinely violate New York City Paid Sick Leave and Fair Work Week laws.
Jeremy Pereyra and co-workers came off his shift at the 1379 Sixth Avenue to tell today’s protesters that a manager forced him to work sick just last week, right after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines to contain the spread of Coronavirus, including the recommendation that people stay home if they feel sick.
“I told my manager that I had flu-like symptoms and needed to take a sick day,” Pereyra said. “He told me I could not take off and he made me work the rest of my shift although I had been sick for three days and was sick that day.”
Friday’s walkout is the fourth at a New York City Chipotle store this week.
Eleven workers filed complaints with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) last week, saying that managers constantly pressure them to work while sick and have sought to retaliate against them or even fire them for taking sick days.
“Several times in my year at Chipotle, I’ve gotten sick and had diarrhea while at work,” said Carlos Hernandez, one of the workers who filed complaints. “Every time this happened, I went to the on-duty manager, let them know I had diarrhea, and asked to go home. Unfortunately, every time I did this, the manager merely told me to switch from the grill, where I normally work, to washing dishes or working the cash register.”
Workers also say that they are pressured to forgo vital safety practices, such as enough time to properly wash their hands often, as also recommended by CDC regarding Coronavirus.
According to a food safety report recently released by 32BJ SEIU and the National Consumers League, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity’: How Chipotle management practices lead to worker abuses and may create food safety risks for consumers,” Chipotle managers violate companywide policy that prohibits crew members from working within three days of vomiting or experiencing “uncontrolled diarrhea” and within five days of receiving a diagnosis for specific infectious diseases such as norovirus.
Workers told researchers for the report that supervisors often try to dissuade them from taking sick leave when they are sick or retaliate against them for taking sick leave, both of which are violations of the New York City Paid Sick Leave Law.
The reason for this may be that Chipotle managers receive a large portion of their pay from up to a 25% bonus that depends on decreasing labor costs and increasing line speed. A former manager has blown the whistle on this practice, saying Chipotle manager bonuses are directly penalized when a worker takes a paid sick day, creating an incentive for manager to pressure workers to work sick. This incentive may also cause managers to prevent workers from slowing the line by washing their hands during rush periods.
Because of the CoronaVirus crisis, workers can no longer wait for the company to begin following these laws – Chipotle must start following the law now and change their bonus program in order to improve the health and safety of their workers and the public.
A spokesperson from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) said when fast food companies force their employees to work sick, they’re not just putting their other employees at risk, they’re also putting the public at risk.
“With the growing threat of the Coronavirus outbreak, the level of urgency is even greater,” NYCOSH Executive Director Charlene Obernauer said. “Chipotle is trying to have its cake and eat it too. They tell the public that they have implemented all these great food safety protocols and there’s no longer any risk when you eat at Chipotle. But internally, they’ve set up a bonus system for managers that is in tension with food safety.”
“We passed the Paid Sick Leave law so people don’t have to choose between taking care of their families when they are sick, and taking care of their families by going to work. We are gravely disappointed to see Chipotle violating this law, especially at a moment that staying home when sick is a major recommendation from federal health agencies to halt the spread of the Coronavirus,” said Councilmember Mark Levine, head of the Council’s health committee.
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 12,000 in New Jersey and 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country