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Protestors Respond to Chipotle Layoffs

Following a federal I9 audit by Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted statewide, Chipotle Mexican Grill has fired around 700 Latino immigrant workers throughout the state of Minnesota. Of those 700, 150 were employees at multiple restaurants in Minneapolis.

In response to the layoffs, several dozen protestors chained themselves together inside a downtown Minneapolis Chipotle restaurant last week, holding placards expressing their sentiments. The protesters were reportedly cited with misdemeanor trespassing. The basic message was one of indignation that Chipotle had abruptly fired many of its Latino employees without standard procedural protections and in many cases without paying back wages. Workers were, they claim, given little explanation as to the reasons for their termination, and many workers experienced delays in being paid.

Following an internal audit, workers are typically given 30 days to clear up any problems with their documents. Further, according spokesmen of the protest, Minnesota employment statutes require Chipotle to pay back wages to its workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement began conducting the I9 investigation a few months ago when it requested worker eligibility documents for Chipotle employees and provided a list of workers whose documents were possibly invalid.

According to a Chipotle spokesman, the company attempts to screen new employees to ensure that all workers are legal, but some submit false documents showing their eligibility to work. The company claims to have given workers insisting on their eligibility extra time to verify the authenticity of the documents. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has declined Chipotle's request to allow a 90-day period to resolve discrepancies.

Among the protesters were members of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26 in Saint Paul. While none of the Chipotle workers was represented by the union, their group was represented in the protest over treatment of the workers. SEIU and Chipotle reportedly held a meeting several weeks ago, but no agreement was reached concerning the fired workers.

Prior to the layoffs, Chipotle had 1,200 employees at its 50 restaurants throughout the state of Minnesota. While protestors claim that 700 workers were terminated statewide, that number was not confirmed by Chipotle ownership. According to an undisclosed source, the number was closer to 350. In any case, Chipotle has since replaced the fired employees. Chipotle is based out of Denver, Colorado and currently has over 1000 locations in 38 states, as well as locations in Ontario and London. The company has a total staff of around 25,000 employees.

Source: Star Tribune, "Chipotle fires hundreds, draws protest," David Brewster, 20 Jan 2011.

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