Government Smacks Down Chipotle For Telling An Employee That Talking About Wages ‘Creates Drama’

CREDIT: AP/Paul Sakuma

Chipotle has been found to run afoul of labor law in the way it responded to workers protesting working conditions and talking about pay.

On Thursday, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge Melissa M. Olivero issued a ruling saying that a Chipotle location in St. Louis, Missouri violated the National Labor Relations Act by firing a worker who had gone on strike and talked about wages at work. She also ruled it illegally interrogated and threatened other employees who talked about their pay.

A company spokesperson declined to comment on the decision, adding, “Generally speaking, it is always a top priority for us to remain compliant with all local and federal labor laws.”

Patrick Leeper, who had worked at the store since February 2011, was fired in May of 2014 for allegedly missing an all-store meeting and for poor performance. But Olivero writes that not all workers attend those meetings and that others who have missed them weren’t fired, while his performance reviews were all rated satisfactory until the day before he was fired.

Instead, the judge found that Leeper was terminated for participating in strikes demanding higher wages and for discussing pay with his coworkers. He missed work twice in 2013 to join strikes with the Show Me 15 campaign. Later on, after his supervisor Tim Healy found out he had brought up how much workers are paid, Healy told him, “we don’t talk about wages in the workplace because it creates drama and makes the workplace awkward” and that if it happened again “we will be parting ways.”

It wasn’t just Leeper who received thinly veiled threats of termination, however. Another manager, Desmond Golliday, allegedly interrogated employees about who had discussed wages and told them they couldn’t do so and that if they did they faced penalties. Mangers were also told they couldn’t let workers talk about pay. Healy also told a different employee not to talk to union representatives and implied that he would get more pay if he didn’t get involved.

Judge Olivero found these actions to violate the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees who organize and talk about wages and working conditions in order to improve them.

Chipotle is far from the only fast food company to be found violating the law, however. The NLRB charged McDonald’s with violating workers’ rights last year by threatening reprisal for workers who joined strikes. Walmart has also come under fire from the labor board for firing, disciplining, and threatening workers who went on strike or attempted to unionize.

All of these companies’ actions have come in response to the Fight for 15 and OUR Walmart movements, which have staged repeated strikes to demand higher wages and the right to organize unions.

Chipotle’s labor practices have garnered other scrutiny. In October, the company was sued by workers in Colorado and Minnesota alleging wage theft. They say they were made to work off the clock as a way to shave time off of their paychecks.