Workers Shut Down Chipotle Store Over ‘Borderline Sweatshop Conditions’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A Chipotle location in State College, Pennsylvania was shut down for several hours on Wednesday after workers walked out, posting a sign about what it’s like to work there.

“Ask your corporate offices why their employees are forced to work in borderline sweatshop conditions,” the sign read. The sign claimed, “Almost the entire management and crew have resigned.”

The company has confirmed that a few employees quit, thus locking out the other workers who it says were “enthusiastic” to get back to work. Onward State, a Penn State blog, reports that four managers had quit over two days. The location didn’t reopen until 5 p.m.

The sign was posted by Penn State student Stephen Healy, who had been a part-time manager, because he says the conditions at the store have been deteriorating and he felt it was the only way to get change. He told Onward that the store was extremely understaffed, with just six or eight employees on days they needed more like 13 to 14, which meant workers often had to put in 11-hour shifts without breaks. “We just felt neglected,” he said. “Working conditions are heinous.” While he said the sign isn’t an attack on the corporation nor the inspiration for a strike, he wanted to see better treatment of employees.

But the closure comes at a time when many who work in fast food are going on strike to demand better conditions. Hundreds were arrested on September 4 for acts of civil disobedience during strikes in 159 cities. That was at least the tenth day of strikes since fast food workers began a series of walkouts in 2012 aimed at securing a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize.

Beyond the low pay, fast food workers have complained about difficult working conditions. McDonald’s workers sued the company in March over its use of technology that allows the corporation to calculate how much is being spent on workers versus how much in sales is coming in, thus pressuring managers to force employees off the clock if things slow down and then clock back in. They also accuse the chain of other wage theft tactics like making workers pay for their own uniforms. Nine out of ten fast food workers say they’ve experienced wage theft, including these tactics and others than make them work while off the clock.

Erratic and intense scheduling is also an increasing problem. Workers report they are often given just 24 hours’ notice that they have to come in for a shift, their schedules change midweek, and stores are perpetually understaffed.