On June 22 of this year, workers at a Chipotle location in Augusta, Maine, made history by becoming the first store in the US to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Then, on Tuesday, July 19, Chipotle announced that it would be permanently closing the Augusta location. While spokespeople for the fast-casual dining giant deny that the closure is related to union organizing activity, workers and their supporters say the drastic move is a clear act of retaliation and “union busting 101.” The Chipotle store closure coincides with a broader, aggressive escalation of anti-union actions taken by other employers who have also recently closed stores and production plants where workers were organizing, including multiple Starbucks locations across the US, Heine Brothers’ Coffee in Kentucky, Amy’s Kitchen in California, and G&D Integrated, LLC, in Illinois. “By closing the Augusta store,” Jeffrey Neil Young, a lawyer representing the Chipotle workers, told The New York Times, “it’s signaling to Chipotle workers elsewhere who are involved in or contemplating nascent organizational drives that if you organize, you might be out of job.” But workers are refusing to be bullied and silenced by the company, and they are fighting back. In this extended mini-cast, we talk with Brandi McNease, a worker-organizer at the Augusta Chipotle location and a founding member of Chipotle United.
Additional links/info below…
- PETITION: Tell Chipotle CEO to Re-Open Augusta!
- Chipotle United website and Twitter page
- Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, “Chipotle Closes a Maine Store, and Workers Say It’s Because of a Union Drive“
- Mike Pomranz, Food & Wine, “Chipotle Closes Store That Voted to Form Chain’s First Union, Citing Staffing Issues“
- Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, “Chipotle Is Sued by New York City Over Scheduling Practices“
- Alex Press, Jacobin, “Chipotle Is a Nightmare Employer“
- Working People, “Starbucks Sinks to a New Low (w/ Nadia Vitek)“
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “Starbucks and Other Companies Escalate War on Unions with Store Closures“
- Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News Network, “‘They F*cked Us’: Illinois Ironworkers Laid Off after Unionizing“
- Nico Madrigal-Yankowski, SFGate, “Bay Area Frozen Foods Giant Amy’s Closing Production Plant after One Year“
Permanent links below…
- Leave us a voicemail and we might play it on the show!
- Labor Radio / Podcast Network website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- In These Times website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- The Real News Network website, YouTube channel, podcast feeds, Facebook page, and Twitter page
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org): Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Brandi McNease: My name is Brandi McNease. I am a crew member at the Augusta Maine Chipotle and the organizer of Chipotle United.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Well, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
So as y’all heard, we’ve got Brandi McNease on for a very important and urgent mini cast this week. I’m sure that y’all have been hearing about, at first, the exciting news of Brandi’s store, the Chipotle store in Augusta, Maine, making history as the first Chipotle store to unionize. And it was really an incredible achievement. And then we got word this past week that Chipotle decided to permanently close the store. And as listeners of this show know, this is not an isolated incident. We just had a worker from Starbucks in Ithaca whose store was also closed after they unionized.
Over at The Real News Network, I interviewed iron workers in Illinois at G&D Integrated who unionized and then had their plant closed in a suspected act of retaliation. I would call it a very clear act of retaliation. But Starbucks is not just closing stores in Ithaca. It announced 16 more closures, I think last week, including some unionized stores. The Chipotle that Brandi works at. We also at The Real News spoke with a worker at Heine Brothers’ coffee in Louisville, Kentucky, where multiple stores, I believe, voted to unionize, and the most vocally pro-union store was shut down last month, in June.
So, this is an escalation, I think it’s safe to say. I think that Starbucks is probably leading the way and other companies are taking notice. But I think that we need to understand the moment that we’re actually in right now, where the rising labor consciousness, the increase in organizing activity. The more that workers in different industries are standing up for themselves and banding together and fighting for what they deserve is incredible.
And I think the bosses are scared. I think that’s very clear. And they are going to gnash their teeth and thrash their limbs, and they’re going to do underhanded things like closing unionized stores and coming up with BS justifications for doing that. Which is, in fact, what Chipotle has done, justifying the closure of the store that Brandi works at. So, before we toss things back to Brandi, just to center everyone who’s listening right now in case you hadn’t heard the news, I’m going to read from a couple of passages from this article in Food & Wine magazine by Mike Pomranz. And we’re going to link to this in the show notes.
But Mike writes, “Thanks in large part to a growing national push from Starbucks’ employees, interest in unionization at restaurant chains has surged significantly in the past year. Last month, a Chipotle Mexican Grill location in Augusta, Maine, decided to join the movement, becoming the first store with the burrito brand to petition for a union election. But now, just as Starbucks has faced multiple accusations of union busting by closing locations, Chipotle is under fire after announcing the permanent closure of its Augusta restaurant. As the Maine AFL-CIO explained when the Augusta location first announced its union plans back in June, employees at the store were seeking to unionize in large part due to a demand for ‘safe, adequate staffing at their store.’ Interestingly, Chipotle offered that exact explanation when announcing the store’s closure yesterday.
‘Despite the considerable time and resources we’ve spent trying to staff the restaurant, we don’t have management necessary to reopen and, combined with the ongoing callouts and lack of availability of existing staff, we won’t be able to open the restaurant for the foreseeable future,’ Lisa Zeppetelli – Chipotle’s people experience partner, Northeast –” – What a title. Sorry. – “wrote in an email to employees at the store that was posted to Twitter.
“‘As a result,’” she continues, “’Chipotle has made this difficult decision to close the location permanently.’ Brandi McNease, the employee leading the unionization efforts, found the timing of the email especially suspicious, arriving on the same day of a scheduled national labor relations board hearing for their organization, Chipotle United. ‘They waited until the morning of the hearing to close the store and then claimed we couldn’t elect to form a union because we’re permanently closed,’ she said in a statement provided to Maine’s Sun Journal. ‘This is union busting 101 and there is nothing that motivates us to fight harder than this underhanded attempt to shut down the labor movement within their stores. They’re scared because they know how powerful we are and if we catch fire like the unionization efforts at Starbucks they won’t be able to stop us.'”
So, first of all, hell yeah. Should give you a little taste of how badass Brandi is. But that’s the situation. And apologies, I think I wrongly said at the top that Chipotle United had already unionized. I didn’t mean to mix up the order of events there.
But Brandi, let’s turn things over to you here. So, we’re going to wade into this store closure bullshit in a second. But before we get there, what we do on this show all the time is we really try to talk to workers at length about the kind of work that they do. What it’s like to be a worker in different industries, whether that’s education or healthcare service, so on and so forth. And I think a lot of people have been complaining of late about fast food and different service establishments like Chipotle that are experiencing supply chain issues, that are being chronically understaffed. And so, people only see the consumer side of things. But I wanted to ask if you could give listeners a bit of a sense of what your time working at Chipotle has been like? What that work has entailed? And what you think people on the customer side don’t see about what Chipotle workers go through on a weekly basis?
Brandi McNease: Thank you for bringing me in and having me talk about this. It’s really important for everybody to hear and to understand. My experience with Chipotle began in 2016. I started out part-time, it was my second job. I was recruited a year later into a management position, and I stayed there for another two years. In that time, I was a shift manager performing assistant manager duties and running the store while the general manager was out with illness. And it was a lot to put on a manager who hadn’t really been trained in any of that. And I found myself working 60, 70 hour weeks trying to cover, support my whole team, make sure that everything was done correctly. I left in 2019 for a different kind of work, thinking that restaurant work really wasn’t for me anymore. I got like a… Oh, I had an entire Sunday shift that was overtime.
I was in overtime before I showed up. And then I showed up and worked 16 more hours. I could not save my crew and I was driving myself into the ground trying. So, as much as it was difficult for me, I had to leave. I’ve been thinking about it for almost a year. And I just couldn’t leave, that was my family. So, after I lost my job – Off this job, last fall during COVID – I went back to Chipotle as a certified trainer. The GM at that time had hired me on because the staff, the crew, didn’t have any sort of formal training. Wasn’t familiar with any of the tools that were available. Chipotle spends millions of dollars on all of this training stuff, and they didn’t have any idea how to utilize any of it because they were all new.
Everybody in that store had quit at the end of last year. So, everybody that I was coming in to help at the end of January was very new. I couldn’t help them. I got there and I pulled out training stuff and I got people off of the floor to watch videos. And we tried to sign off on stuff and work together, but we were so understaffed that I could not take people off of the floor, that I had to be on the floor working a position. So, all of my efforts to improve the store overall with the appropriate training were unrealized because it was so understaffed.
The other issue, when I came back to the store… So I was gone, like I said, for two years. And when I came back in January, it was with the intent of helping the crew to get back to where they could be in terms of performance and food safety and staffing. But the first thing that I noticed when I walked back in was the disrepair that the store had fallen into. It was not clean. Things were broken. The equipment was broken. We had a gas leak. We all worked through a gas leak for two weeks being told that’s not what it was, until the grill caught fire one day.
Maximillian Alvarez: Geez.
Brandi McNease: And the stove top the same way, they very much had to… Well, they kept saying it’s because they put it back together wrong, but there were three or four times that flames shot out of the stove top too. In the very first part when I was there, the grill and the stove top and the rice cooker would intermittently fail. So, at one point we just removed all of the grill items and all of the stove top items from our online ordering instead of just shutting it down. There were also times where I had to make online orders that called for ingredients that we didn’t have because they didn’t get them for us because nobody had been trained on how to make orders correctly. And so we were, in addition to struggling to keep up, we were taking the brunt of all of these failures.
And we were asking for help, and asking for help, and everything was falling on deaf ears. And we had asked for help in all of the appropriate ways. And it came to the point where everybody had worked themselves to their capacity. Everybody was giving 110% every single day. One of our coworkers had worked through a hernia to the point that it became an emergency. We had people working sick because they couldn’t afford to take time off, even though it’s against company policies. And people would come in for a double shift. If there were closers that could see that our morning people were struggling, they would come in and they would take care of us in the morning for our opening, and then they would stay and they would close. So, there were a lot of people that were getting a lot of hours. And they were doing the same thing that they did to me, to the other managers.
They had a kitchen manager who hadn’t received any shift manager training. And he was promoted to shift manager and then became the most senior manager in the store. And he wasn’t able to fill out all the paperwork and then got penalized. They were working everybody way too hard. They were expecting all of the same things from the management that they had expected out of me. Taking a kitchen manager who was just learning to manage inventory and start ordering and then turn them into a shift manager that was untrained. And then into the most senior manager, when really all the education that he had had was like a glorified crew member. And even not so much that.
So, it was incredibly unfair to everyone. We were all there trying to keep each other employed. Because we had been told that we could be shut down if we were closed. We were closed intermittently at the beginning of the year. We would close for full days or we would do half days or we would turn off online ordering.
So, it was just trying to manage the influx of customers based on how many people we had to serve them. But it came to the point where we heard from on high that if we didn’t open for all of our hours, we were going to be shut down. So we did the best that we could. But there was a day in the beginning of June where they were going to make us stay open with everything on full-bore. There were like four of us. And collectively we decided that we were going to turn off the monitors for the online orders. And we were going to put signs on the door that said, we can’t fill online orders at this time, please call customer service. As a protective concerted activity because we were so far stretched that it wasn’t safe for us to be trying to serve with food safety stuff and running around a kitchen. And that didn’t end up happening. Finally our pleas were heard. So we didn’t end up doing anything that day. But on June 14th, we had a similar situation where we were very much understaffed.
There were four people on the clock. I had come in the morning to help prep and then I had to leave for a doctor’s appointment. And we were so short during prep and trying to get everything done that the crew had decided that we were not going to open the store. If the manager tried to open the doors, we were going to refuse, we were gone. And I left. And then when I came back, they had opened. Because of the feeling of obligation that they had toward this manager who was panicking because he was going to get fired if we didn’t open the store. It was a horrible place to be in. I can’t imagine him having to watch his friends hurting themselves and working sick and doing all of this so that we could all keep our jobs.
So once I got back, we decided that we would leave, and we just all clocked out. We said, it’s not safe. We’re so low on food, we’re going to have to close the doors again so that we can make everything all over again anyway. We’re just going to clock out and we’re going to leave. And we told the manager, I’m sorry you have to close the store by yourself, but every day that we do this to ourselves is just another day that we’re showing Chipotle we’re willing to do this to ourselves. And eventually you just need to put your foot down. So, we left. My incredibly brave crew members, they were all so scared, and they knew that we had to do something. But as far as taking action, nobody really knew what was best. So, they trusted me and they followed.
And it was an incredible act right from there, for us to be protecting each other, to be protecting our family, to look around and say, it’s not safe here. I’m tired of watching you get kicked around. I love you. I genuinely do love my crew. They’re definitely family. But we’re tired of watching you get kicked around, and we’re all done with that. So, we went for some ice cream, because it was a moment. And then we called a friend at the main AFL-CIO and went, oh my God we just walked out, what do we do next? This is so scary. And she assured us that what we had done was most likely protected because we had all agreed that we can’t keep up with food quality, with temperature taking to make sure that everything is in a safe temperature zone. Running around, working with equipment that was broken.
Just a few of us that were there. Slips, trips, and falls are the main injuries in the restaurant industry. So, for us to be running around was exposing us to what most likely would lead to injuring us. It was an unsafe situation, and we all knew that. And under the labor laws of the United States, we had a right to walk out rather than put ourselves and our customers in direct danger. And I don’t think a lot of people know that you can do that. There’s a whole bunch of rights that you have before you even have to start thinking about unionizing. The right to walk out, to protest, to get together and make demands. To get together and talk about your situation and make plans on how you want to attack it. There’s so much that you can do without having to worry about the whole big union thing, especially right now, because they shut our store down. And that’s pretty scary.
A lot of people need to feel empowered, but not feel pressured to expose themselves to the same risks immediately. Of course we want everybody to join, and anybody that’s as insane as me to just dive into the deep end. I had no idea what I was getting into, to be honest. I thought that New York, the BJ 32 through the SEIU National or international had already filed because they’d been dealing with union busting for two years. But they haven’t even gotten a chance to petition for a union because Chipotle’s gone so hard against them. And I had looked into that before all of this, just out of curiosity to see what would happen if maybe we wanted to organize. So, I thought they had led the way. I did not think that I was first, that we were first and… I’m going to start that over because it’s not me.
I did not think that we were first. So I had to give a lot of credit to our New York partners over there because they made it seem like I was just joining the fight. And I was totally in for that. So we made a demand letter – Sorry, total sidebar. We made a demand letter after we walked out. We served it to the most accessible manager to us, who was the level above GM. We didn’t have an assistant manager or a store manager. We couldn’t reach the manager above the store manager. So we had to go to his boss. We had to email the demand letter to the manager four levels above us, because we were that unsupported.
And so the demand letter said, we walked out because this is incredibly unsafe. We can’t keep doing this. We’re putting ourselves at risk. We’re putting our guests at risk. We are not going to continue like this. If we don’t have seven people on the shift, then we’re not going to open. We will not open the doors. We’ll leave again, at 10:45 every day, until you send us help. Send us training. Send us people. Send us managers. Send us somebody to fix the equipment shooting flames. Just send us help. And so, on the 17th, the upper management came to the store, shut the store down because it was too dirty to serve customers out of. Mind you, we had been serving customers out of it on the 14th. We had just passed an inspection from Chipotle’s third party company.
And they said, oh you shouldn’t have passed. But they saw things like the temperature logs that people couldn’t keep up. Other people were going in and forging them after the fact because that was the expectation in older times, in other times. And they just let us pass like oh, I understand, it’s really difficult for you right now. You don’t have enough management. You’ll do better next time. So, she came in, and she said the store is too dirty to serve customers. And we started cleaning and they started organizing all of the stuff that we had that we didn’t need because nobody knew how to order. And started fixing things little by little. But it wasn’t until we filed for the union that they began retraining us in earnest.
That was the day that they took out the training books, that they sat us down, that they went through the whole orientation process. Had us sign all of the paperwork that we acknowledged all the rules. And actually, I think that was one of the last times that my book ever got touched, was the day after we served the petition to the store. And there was a lot of press around that because we had been covered over the walkout, that had made the local news. So, then the state news started picking up on the petition thing. And that started kind of moving. They brought in some other managers to try to run the store, to keep us serving.
But every day they would call the manager and say, don’t open today. We could have prepped everything and thought that we were opening until 10:15 in the morning. And then they would say, oh we’re going to close for training. You look around the room and there’d be like five crew on the clock. So, they just didn’t want us to walk out on them again. And from that point, they did bring in recruiters, they dumped a ton of money into the restaurant. They fixed a lot of stuff and sent a lot of management. But now that we understand, now that we’ve seen what’s happened, hindsight is 20/20, and it was a lot of setup, I think. I feel like it was a lot of setup to get to this point.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, thank you so much for laying that out, because I think this is the kind of background and kind of on the ground details that a lot of us aren’t getting when we read mainstream media and all that stuff. I mean, Lord knows that workers’ stories barely get the attention that they deserve. Hopefully that is changing. But even so, it’s like we reduce these things to sound bites and whatnot, you don’t really get that full picture. Hearing you talk, how exhausting and frustrating that must be, going through that on a day to day basis. Because again, I know just speaking for myself, every time I’ve been to a Chipotle this year, I felt horrible for the workers because they always seem to be out of stuff and customers are being pissy about it. They never seem to have enough staff. And yet all the…
Brandi McNease: Definitely systemic.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah.
Brandi McNease: Sorry.
Maximillian Alvarez: It certainly seems like that. It certainly seems to be a systemic problem. And yet, what we hear when we turn on the TV or whatnot it’s like, oh it gives you the impression that the job market out there is just a barren wasteland of unanswered help wanted signs. And the problem is just that “no one wants to work”. But I think, again, the more that we talk to folks, like recently I spoke to Kenya Slaughter, she’s a Dollar General worker in Louisiana. And she talks about how, yeah, you’ve probably gone into a Dollar General and you’ve noticed that there’s like one or two people there. The shelves are almost always empty. It’s in disarray. There’s a help wanted sign there. So, as a consumer you might logically think oh, well these are just the poor schlubs who are left here and no one else wants to work here.
And what Kenya pointed out was she was like, no, we are begging for more hours and more staff while Dollar General is raking in billions of dollars, and they are deliberately understaffing us. So, it gives you a very different side of the picture when you actually listen to working people who are running these places and making them work.
I wanted to ask you a little bit more about that. Not like ask you to sort of explain the corporate policy here, but is that how it’s felt for you all? That the issue is not just that you can’t find workers to take these jobs, but that there’s a larger, like you said, systemic policy at work here that’s running people into the ground and leading to these constant issues that customers see on a daily basis?
Brandi McNease: I definitely think that Chipotle is a corporation built on exploitation. You see all of the systemic issues with short staffing, lack of training. Reddit has just blown up with horror stories from Chipotle workers. It’s really interesting, actually. It’s an interesting read. But we understand now that they set up time expectations for us that are set on the highest performing restaurants, and then they expect us to meet those expectations after five days of training. So, even when we’re doing their training correctly, the expectation is still incredibly, ridiculously high. Most people find that they will learn all of the shortcuts and ways to cut corners and all of the tricks of the trade right away because nobody can actually comply with their expectations. Part of it is just that we can’t get workers because they can’t deal with walking into a place and immediately being accountable for goals that have probably taken people years.
I mean, if you’re basing your expectations on the highest performing restaurants, that’s messed up. Because you’re scheduling every minute of our morning, every prep task had a minute value. I can’t say what they were because I do not recall at this time, but they were all stacked in a way that our whole morning was taken up with prep. And so we had to have the right amount of people. And we weren’t able to achieve the time. So, as they were trying to staff people, the people were immediately getting discouraged and quitting again. And it was the same with us before anybody came in. When we tried to staff, we would hire somebody, they would come in, we would have three people on this shift. We’d be like hey, welcome aboard, you know how to do some dishes? Here you go.
And people didn’t like that. They didn’t like being stuck on dishes for a week, because they didn’t have the opportunity to learn anything else. That’s pretty messed up. So, it wasn’t so much a matter of nobody wanting to work as it is a matter of we are not being set up for success. And the workers are expected to make up for that by working ridiculous hours and cutting a bunch of corners and just trying to function the best they can. And with this particular crew, because they had all started and their [inaudible] new to the company and hadn’t gotten much training himself, they had all just kind of learned to do stuff. Willy-nilly, just the best that they knew how. So, trying to come in, I bet, as a new crew member and adjust to that is not going to be everybody that walks through the door. Is not going to be everybody that applies and starts out with us.
So, it was really the environment that Chipotle creates in their stores that is leading to this short staffing issue. Chipotle is one of the very few food service places in Augusta that you could eat at where it wasn’t greasy and gross. And we had all of the fast food burger joints and our Taco Bell and whatever else, but most people came to us because we were the healthiest option. And a lot of people came to work for us because they believed in our mission and our values and all of the things that Chipotle stood for. So, I mean that’s why I hung on, was because the idea of making real food and making changes in the world really appealed to me.
So, we had enough applicants. We didn’t have enough management to respond to the applicants. We didn’t have enough crew available so that we could train the new hires. And then the people that stuck around generally had to find their own way. And it was not a fair environment. And it didn’t get any better when all of the management came in. So, they managed to split the original crew in half. They got rid of a bunch of us. And then they couldn’t find people to come work because everybody quit when they started in the training that we were being “provided”.
Maximillian Alvarez: Geez. And on top of that, you already mentioned it, but just to remind listeners, that’s also very dangerous. I remember slipping and falling at a restaurant that I worked at, and I was carrying a bunch of plates and stuff. And I just think of all the ways that it could have gone even worse. I remember having a bit of a limp for a couple days because I twisted my ankle. But I’m imagining if there were half of us there who were supposed to be there and we were running around trying to do the same amount of work in those same conditions, it’s just unnatural. That if you have fewer people doing that much work and everyone is being held to these impossibly high standards that are set by the success rates of the top performing stores. Like you said, we call it cutting corners, but it’s just like, well no, you’re just going to focus on the task at hand and other stuff is going to fall by the wayside.
And then one day you slip on something or, yeah, I don’t know. It’s just a really terrible situation, and like you said, an unfair situation to put workers in. Not just new hires, God forbid, but also the workers who are still there trying to keep this place running. And I see it happening everywhere, and it’s driving me nuts. I’ve been talking to nurses who are quitting in record numbers because they are burnt the hell out after multiple years of a pandemic. But even before that, just having more patients piled on to single nurses, and they can’t provide the care that they want to, that they all know is their duty to provide. But they’re like, we don’t have enough time.
I’m only one person, and it’s unsafe to be in these conditions. But some asshole in the administration looked at a spreadsheet and said oh, if we pile more patients onto this number of nurses, we’ll save X amount of dollars. And it’s like yeah, that all looks good on a spreadsheet. But when you look at what it actually does to workers who make your business run, it looks very different. And I could genuinely talk to you about this for days. But I know on top of this, you are a human being with a life and a family. You are dealing with a store closure and coworkers who are trying to stay together, who are banded together, who are fighting this. So, you’ve got a lot going on. And I promise I won’t keep you for much longer, but I wanted to circle back to one really important thing that you said. Because I think it’s really significant for anyone listening to this to hear.
Because I think that one of the reasons that you all over there in Augusta, just like Starbucks workers, just like Amazon workers, just like John Deere workers, Kellogg’s workers, anyone who is standing up for themselves and saying, I deserve better than this. The reason I think that’s giving so many of us hope is because of what you said. It’s like, we don’t necessarily know the playbook here. It’s not like we’re veteran organizers, we just know that we love each other. We love our coworkers. We don’t want each other to get hurt. We don’t want to see ourselves and our coworkers whom we care about treated this way. That’s enough for us to know that we need to do something. And I think you’re exactly right. For most of our lifetimes, working people just haven’t really, it hasn’t been a normal thing to think like, well maybe we can band together and do something about it. The only option that has really been presented to us is like, well why don’t you just quit? If you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave? It never occurred to me in so many of the…
Brandi McNease: Right.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. In so many of the crappy jobs that I had, it never even occurred to me that there was another option. If I turned to my coworkers and we started talking about this stuff, and you all took that brave step. And I think that’s really incredible. And as furious as I am at Chipotle at Starbucks, at G&D Integrated for closing these stores – And they’re not the only ones. one that I forgot to mention up top that I’m really pissed off about and that people really need to know about is Amy’s Kitchen. This company that has made a whole lot of money off of branding itself as progressive and vegetarian or vegan. I’ve spoken to workers at these plants who are talking about ripping tendons in their arms and fingers and working under horrendous conditions and getting union busting from management.
And then Amy’s Kitchen, the progressive company, announced this past week that they are closing the San Jose production plant. 331 jobs are being lost, 331 workers with lives and families are now suddenly out of a job. And they were trying to unionize as well. I believe that was the plant that was working with organizers from Unite Here.
But anyway, the point being is just that we are with you, and we wanted to, I guess round out by asking, where things stand now. How are you and your coworkers doing? And what can folks out there do to show support for y’all?
Brandi McNease: We’ve been blessed with a lot of support because of the grassroots movement. Some connections that I have made last fall with people in unions and in the system working through the state of Maine unemployment system, which is a big issue. Totally separate from this. We were able to connect with an incredible support network. We had no idea what solidarity meant. And so we stood up and said hey, we’re a collective bargaining unit. And then Chipotle started kicking us as hard as they could. And we’ve had help with media management. We’ve had help with filing the petition. We’ve had this incredible group of people who’ve been working with us. And now we have spread into national media, international media. We have a chance, although the store has been closed down, to project our voice so far right now. And to call on everybody who feels like they are being exploited and abused and mistreated. The service industry has always been like that.
Oh well, if you don’t like it, then go find another job. And you can’t do that for your whole life. We just move from one crappy situation to another. And it’s time for the companies to realize that they can’t treat us like we’re disposable. They can’t set these awful working conditions and then look around and say, well everybody else is doing it. We are not less of a person because we spend our lives serving our community. I think, given the pandemic, we’re much more supported than we were before. It’s time for all of the service workers to understand that we have the power. We weren’t Chipotle United when we walked out the door the first time, when we were like nope, not going to do it anymore. I’m sick of them abusing you. We’re all going to leave. We weren’t anything more than the group of people that were currently working in the restaurant.
And we have since then encountered so many different groups of people. We’ve talked to so many different Chipotles around the country who have filed, like Michigan, or are in the process of filing, like New York is fighting to file. And a lot of other places that are just getting information and starting to roll the ideas around and getting ready to join the movement. And what I’ve found was stunning about that is that, it is the Generation Z and younger Millennials who have driven this more than anybody, I think, could have predicted. I’ve talked to a lot of them that have said, we grew up and everything was crap. And we knew that we were going to end up in these jobs and everything was going to be terrible. And that was just going to be our lives, because late stage capitalism.
And for them to say, we didn’t have anything to lose, so we exercised our power. And for other people to feel like everything is terrible and I don’t have any power. Knowing that most of our energy is coming right now from the younger people who often don’t feel they have a voice or don’t feel they have a place in a movement like this, who’ve been told, oh, you don’t know anything, or you’re just dreaming, or whatever else people say to discourage other people from trying to better the world, for whatever reasons they have for that. None of that is true. The organizing committees all across the country are run by people who are 22, 21. We had a union member who was 16. Everybody has a voice. Every single one of us is one of us. And it’s not going to change unless we can all say, we’re done being treated like this.
Everybody’s like oh, well they’ll close every Chipotle, or they’ll close every restaurant, or every store. We have proven through the pandemic that’s not true. They won’t close us down because everybody needs us. What, is everybody going to start cooking for themselves? Yeah right. They need us. They need service workers. But they should not be allowed to employ service workers and treat them so poorly while they’re taking in profits hand over fist. So, we’re asking for some of that to be redirected toward us in the form of training and support and appropriate staffing and fixing our equipment. And that is not unreasonable. It’s not outside the bounds of what a company should be doing anyway. And you can absolutely join and stand up and speak your mind. Right now, especially, the support is amazing. We have people from international unions that are available to speak to people who are trying to unionize.
We have people from international unions that are ready to speak to people who are trying to unionize or have questions about it. There’s a ton of support out there right now. Like I said, we’ve never really understood solidarity until we started going out on this. And as our campaign has built and people have watched how AAA has treated us, everybody has stepped up more and more and more. And that support and that passion and that drive isn’t going to go away so long as we keep pushing forward. Starbucks started with one store, just like we did, and they have 200 unionized stores as of today, I think. And Chipotle knew that was coming. And that’s why they shut down the store before they made it into our hearing on Tuesday. Because we were going to go in front of the board, and they were going to say if and when we could have a vote. And they knew that we were going to be allowed to vote, and then we were going to win.
So they flipped the checkerboard, they went home. They were willing to shut down and try to make this excuse. But nobody’s buying it anymore. The labor movement has caught fire. There are some people that are buying it. But everybody is entitled to their opinion, to their wrong opinion. We are not going anywhere. Everybody knows that. So many people want to fight with us for better conditions at work. And you are all invited to step into this movement. Be as involved as you are interested in being, and take a stand for the quality of your life and the people that you care about.
And speaking of amplifying voices, we are working with a larger organization right now to distribute a click-through petition that is demanding that the CEO, Brian Niccol, who made like 1,700 times the median pay of the average worker in just a bonus alone last year. We love him. Telling him that they need to reopen our store. Let us work at different stores until they reopen us. Pay everybody back wages that they’ve forced out – They actually illegally fired two of our crew members right before they shut the doors. So, we want them back too. And also everybody that they’ve driven out through not taking care of us in the past few months.
And also that they stop the union busting. That they acknowledge that what they’re doing is illegal. And that if they won’t recognize us voluntarily, they will come back and they will sit at the table and they will play fair. Because you can’t just walk away. We’re getting this petition out. Mr. Niccol is going to get a lot of emails from people telling him how they feel about union busting. And it’s really important right now to do that as we tackle the beast that is Chipotle corporate. It’s going to catch fire.
It’s going to fuel just like Starbucks did. We are not stepping away from our primary focus of holding Chipotle accountable. And the best way for us to do that right now is to get this petition out and get people to sign it. Put pressure on Chipotle, make them understand how their communities feel about their behavior right now. And maybe through those activities we can have other people in the industry, other stores in the industry, start making movements that will scare their corporations immediately. That their corporations will start to respond. And once they’re all frenzied, they have to talk to us. They have to give us the chance.