Young and Hungry

Councilmembers to Chipotle: Pay Up

Chipotle workers canned over their immigration status have a pair of new champions: D.C. Councilmembers Michael A. Brown and Jim Graham.

Responding to the "mass firings" of about 40 employees last week, Brown and Graham sent a letter to Phil Petrilli, Chipotle's regional director for the Northeast. In the letter, Brown and Graham urge Petrilli to "address the concerns of your former employees with dignity and respect."

"We are deeply concerned abut allegations of intimidation towards these workers, exploitation, and discrepancy of wages among employees predicated on their ethnic background or legal status, coercion into resigning their positions rather than termination, and the possibility of no being paid previously agreed upon wages including vacation hours," the letter reads. "These former employees are entitled to receive their full pay of all wages and benefits accrued during their employment at Chipotle through the date of separation."

A federal immigration audit of the up-market burrito chain started in Minnesota late last year and moved to the D.C. area this winter.

Miguel Bravo, a Chipotle employee in Columbia Heights, tells Reuters that his manager was fired without warning, a new team came in, and it became clear he and his fellow workers were expected to leave.

According to Bravo, when employees went to the back of the store to ask a company representative why their manager had just been fired, a new crew came in through the front door and took their assigned places in the restaurant: "We understood that this was obviously a dismissal, but they made it seem like we abandoned our jobs." Bravo tells the news agency that a similar mass canning happened last week at the Woodley Park Chipotle.

In the letter, Brown and Graham also state that if Chipotle does not address their concerns, they "will notify the Office of Wage and Hour at the D.C. Department of Employment Services... to begin investigations." They also say they will consider holding hearings on the issue, should their concerns not be resolved.

Photo by Flickr user sun dazed using an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

  • M. Hethmon, IRLI Gen’l Counsel

    With unemployment rates in DC for unskilled and semi-skilled worker among the highest nationwide, the corrupt and demagogic statements by Council Members Brown and Graham must be condemned. In Spring 2011, there are thousands of unemployed young people, mature workers, and part-time US citizen workers who despearately need and are looking for work in the food and hospitality service sectors in the District of Columbia.

    Chipotle and other entities that hire illegal aliens facilitate the exploitation of our most vulnerable American citizen workers, by driving down the wages and working conditions in the local job market. So do the dubiously "caring" customers of these establishments, who save a few cents or bucks on their meals and lodging by helping to gouge those savings from the sweat and misery of needy citizens.

    I urge and invite any US citizen or lawful permanent resident alien living in the metro Washington area who has been denied employment or unfairly discharged by DC businesses that --like the Chipotle restaurants described in the City Paper-- appear to unlawfully prefer unauthorized alien workers, to contact the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI).

    We want to partner with you to fight this scourge. Our telephone number is 202-232-5590 and our email address is

  • gary

    Sounds like the councilmen are violating Title 8 Section 1324 US Code aiding,abetting,encouraging,harboring,transporting and hiring illegal alien is a felony how about taking their pay checks and put it on medical cost,schools,food stamps, and other social services they get free And the american taxpayers have to pay for.

  • Ali

    Yes, workers are entitled to the pay they've already worked for and earned. But it should be an interesting issue. How are they going to PROVE that they in fact earned the money, when they were working under stolen SS numbers and identities? And shouldn't ICE, instead of letting them move on to other jobs, be there to catch and deport them when they come in to get their back pay?

  • Rebo

    As a sous chef at a respected restaurant in DC, I would like to say that we have NOT seen applications from "thousands of unemployed young people, mature workers, and part-time US citizen workers who despearately need and are looking for work in the food and hospitality service sectors in the District of Columbia." For kitchen work, I almost exclusively see immigrants from Central America (willing to accept poorly paid dishwashing jobs) and the occasional culinary school intern (wanting to work the cold or, preferably, hot line).

    The only other time I have ever been approached by someone who appeared to have been born in the US (mid-30s African American male) was when I was moving my car while wearing my chef's jacket. He said, "Hey chef, need any help?" I honestly didn't, or I would have gladly asked him to fill otu an application. I appreciate all forms of diversity in the kitchen.

    Although I am a native-born US citizen, few of my fellow citizens appear interested in the long hours or hard work required for kitchen work. They are not willing to make the investment in starting at the bottom, even though they are promised to be promoted if they work hard and have patience. Make of that what you will.

  • Pingback: Chipotle Mexican Grill: bad employer really bad | Carlos in DC

  • L. Denise

    @Rebo: (I was thinking it...)

  • Daniel

    My letter to the Founder.
    There was no reply
    I have had surgery to attempt to repair the damage in my hands and wrists
    Dear Mr. Steven Ells:

    I entered into a working experience with Chipotle Mexican Grill with great anticipation and excitement; I left with greater disappointment. The Chipotle Mission Statement rang true for what I felt was progressive and innovative in an otherwise stale, poor quality, quick food service environment.
    It’s unfortunate that part of this mission is being squandered, based on my personal service to your organization at this particular restaurant. I left a high-paying job with 10+ years of managerial experience, for the passion of high quality, fast-paced food service. I enjoyed working in this environment and worked very hard to deliver excellence.
    Nevertheless, I believe in your Mission Statement based on Food with Integrity, finding the best ingredients etc.; the video of you in the forest with the pigs and no smell—very compelling. Truly, you are at the front roads of change in this business and I believe in that effort 100%. However, as a front line worker, what I witnessed was demoralizing, given my professional past work experiences, at this particular restaurant.
    I want to communicate to you as the Founder and as a trained chef, given what ended up being a very bad set of circumstances for me as a KMIT and subsequently as Kitchen Manager. I can’t blame you directly, however, it was the General Manager, Christopher Deparlata who made many poor choices that affected the Mission Statement, negatively; the proper treatment of people, animals and the environment.
    I am the grandson of elder William Brewster, Mayflower. I feel a kindred spirit in the fact that we had to reach out for help to survive and live off the land, from Native Americans, for our survival. I am an equal to all, regardless if you are a Mexican national or wherever your origins may be. This country was founded on principles of openness and diversity and I subscribe to those basic principles.
    That being said, I was told, ‘The problem is that you are white’, from this Chipotle, “Restaurateur”, on several occasions in front of other managers of Hispanic / Latino descent. This is a defamation and illegal in this land of the free and is unacceptable to me. How does one manage effectively under those conditions? Lack of management experience within this operation as well as significant language barriers to uphold basic American health / labor code is unacceptable and illegal in the workplace. I wish that you would understand this message in the greater context of what it means based on your vision and the Chipotle philosophy. I believe your standards are of the highest, still, but it’s unfortunate that the reality is that in this particular “management training restaurant”, standards are not up to par. Mr. Deparlata’s, Restaurateur’s, approach is purely, Big Burrito’s for Big Buck’s. I’ve written an expose titled, La Familia Chipotle, based on my personal experience and incidences witnessed over the course of 3 months, prior to being fired as a result of a work-related injury. Thank you for your time and best wishes.

    Kind regards,