The Chipotle restaurant chain's mass firings of Latino workers at Minnesota restaurants continued this week, with workers at some locations fired yesterday at the end of their shifts.
When we broke the story of the Chipolte firings last week, advocates for the fired workers estimated that about 50 people had lost their job. But the firings have continued into this week, and the Minnesota Immigration Rights Action Committee now estimates that at least 80 workers have been fired from Chipotle restaurants across Minnesota and at least one location in Wisconsin.
That number could still grow, as Latino workers in several locations say they are being asked to train in new white workers who they fear will become their replacements once the training is complete.
Restaurant managers referred all questions to Chipotle's corporate headquarters in Denver. So far Chipotle has released only a one-sentence statement confirming that the Immigration and Customs Service has requested employment documents related to the company's Minnesota restaurants.
About 20 of the fired workers gathered at the Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis today to share their experiences and discuss their options. Most were leery of speaking to the press, but two workers recently fired from the Lake Calhoun location agreed to tell their stories using pseudonyms and speaking through a translator.
Juan started at Chipotle five years ago, working full-time for $7.50 an hour. When he was fired yesterday he was making $9.45. Maria said she started at $7 an hour six years ago, and was making $9.50 when she was fired. She was also on the list for a $400 Christmas bonus, she said.
Juan and Maria, who are both originally from the state of Morelos in Mexico, believe that Chipotle knew that they didn't have the proper work papers when they were hired.
"They knew, but as long as we were making money for them, they were happy," Juan said. "Now they're happy to have us go, because we've been working long enough that we're making more money."
Both fired workers said working conditions at Chipotle were abusive long before they were fired. Managers often asked them to work extra hours without overtime, and those who refused were punished with fewer hours of work the following week. They also said Latino workers were often given harder and more unpleasant work than the restaurant's white employees.
Even so, it was a paycheck, and one they depended on. Maria has four children, and her husband's landscaping work dries up in cold weather. For years, her family has relied on her Chipotle wages to carry them through the winter.
"My kids are asking me if they're going to get Christmas presents this year, and I don't know the answer," she said.
Neither of the fired employees know how they're going to make rent through the winter. Juan, like many of the fired employees, has not been paid for his last days of work, and though Minnesota law requires that fired workers be paid for the balance of their work within 24 hours, Chipotle has yet to comply.
"We're just asking for fair treatment," Juan said. "We're not taking anyone's job. We came and applied for those jobs and we got them. I've seen lots of people come and take a job at Chipotle and then leave, because they can't take the low pay and the working conditions. But we don't have a lot of options, so we stay."