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Michigan Chipotle workers vote to unionize in first for chain

Michigan Chipotle workers vote to unionize in first for chain

This Jan. 12, 2017, file photo shows the sign on a Chipotle restaurant in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Chipotle workers in Lansing, Mich., overwhelmingly voted to become the first store in the restaurant chain to formally unionize on Thursday.

Employees voted 11-3 to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for better pay, work hours and relationships with management.

The election was administered and tallied by the National Labor Relations Board after a petition was filed last month.

Samantha Smith, 18, who has worked at the store for more than two years, said the successful unionization effort was an “amazing moment” for the 21-member team at the Michigan restaurant.

“We set out to show that our generation can make substantial change in this world and improve our working conditions by taking action collectively,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”

In a statement, Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle, told The Hill she was “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.”

“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,” Schalow said. “Chipotle is proud to offer our employees industry-leading benefits such as competitive wages, debt-free degrees, tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 per year, health benefits and quarterly bonuses for all employees.”

The success comes a month after Chipotle closed down a location in Augusta, Maine, which had formed an independent union but did not officially unionize with the National Labor Relations Board before corporate shuttered the store over low staffing concerns.

Service workers have rallied around unions or pushed for more rights in a newfound movement that took root during the coronavirus pandemic.

Starbucks, Apple and Amazon have all seen their first unionization efforts during the pandemic-era shift for employee rights.

Chipotle’s Lansing store, the first of the international restaurant chain’s 3,000 stores to unionize, joins approximately 1.2 million workers represented by the Teamsters union across the country and about 4,000 workers in Michigan.

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said the union is “fighting for our brothers and sisters at Chipotle to get the rights and workplace protections they deserve.”

“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 employer may seem, you too can protect your labor with a union,” O’Brien said in a statement. “The revitalization of labor is really just beginning.”

Harper McNamara, 19, who has also worked at the Lansing store for more than two years, said the victory finally gives the workers a “true voice on the job.”

“I am so proud of all those who were involved in this effort, and showed the courage needed to take on a huge corporation,” he said in a statement.

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