Workers at a Michigan Chipotle become the first to vote in a union

The Lansing-area unit will be represented by a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Chipotle union
Workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Lansing, Mich., voted to form a union and will be represented by the Teamsters. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Workers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Lansing, Mich., on Thursday became the first to vote in favor of forming a union.

Organizers there say 11 of 19 workers eligible to vote said yes to the union, while 3 said no. Two ballots were challenged, one on each side, and not counted.

As a result, the workers will be represented by a union affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 243.

In a statement, workers celebrated the victory, saying they planned to work with the union to improve their work schedules, increase wages and “gain the respect from management that they’ve rightfully earned.”

Samantha Smith, an 18-year-old crew member who worked at the Lansing-area restaurant for more than two years, said in a statement, “Today’s victory is an amazing moment for our team that has worked so hard and spent many months organizing. We set out to show that our generation can make substantial change in this world and improve our working conditions by taking action collectively. What this vote shows is that workers are going to keep taking the fight to big corporations like Chipotle and demand the working conditions we deserve.”

Chipotle, meanwhile, responded by pointing to its industry-leading benefits, such as competitive wages, tuition reimbursement, healthcare benefits, and quarterly bonuses — including about $37 million in bonuses given out last year.

“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,” said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, in a statement. “We’re disappointed that the employees at our Lansing, Mich., 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.”

Though the Lansing-area unit was the first to vote for a union, it was the second Chipotle location to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to start the process.

The first was in Augusta, Maine, earlier this year. Chipotle, however, closed the Maine restaurant, blaming staffing issues, before the vote could take place. Union organizers called the move a common union-busting technique

The union effort at Chipotle mirrors a similar movement at Starbucks, where workers at a growing number of units have voted to organize, leading to an increasingly tense dispute between the Seattle-based chain’s management, union organizers, the NLRB and even the White House.

Union efforts have also been growing outside the industry at companies like Apple and Amazon.

Sean O’Brien, Teamsters general president, said in a statement about the Chipotle vote, “Now is the time for working people in this country to take back what’s theirs. No matter your industry, no matter your age or how intimidating your employers may seem, you too can protect your labor with a union. The revitalization of labor is really just beginning.”

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