A Lawrence Chipotle employee plans to file an unfair labor practice claim against the restaurant chain after managers allegedly engaged in union-busting activities at the downtown location.
Quinlan Muller, 21, said she had created a petition in response to worsening working conditions, including understaffing and inadequate training, at the Massachusetts Street Chipotle. She had begun collecting signatures to submit to the National Labor Relations Board and push to unionize the store.
She said she had received signatures from more than 15 of the approximately 25 employees, including all but one manager.
But Muller said she left the petition at the store by accident, and when she returned to the location on Oct. 14, she was met by a woman she didn’t recognize who said she was a member of Chipotle’s human resources department.
“She was there to do a culture check and ask everyone about their concerns and experiences working at the store,” Muller said.
When Muller went looking for her petition, it was gone. Workers believe that a manager threw it away. Muller confronted the manager, who denied throwing away the petition.
“I asked her if it just magically disappeared from the office into the trash can and she said yes,” Muller said.
She said the field leader — a manager who oversees multiple stores — spoke to each employee who had signed the petition about the consequences of forming a union.
“He said that we would lose the benefits that we receive under Chipotle,” Muller said. “We wouldn’t receive tips or tuition reimbursement anymore, managers wouldn’t be able to help us if we needed them to and barriers would be placed between us as workers.”
Muller now plans to file an unfair labor practice claim against Chipotle, claiming they illegally disposed of the petition and interfered with union activities.
“Forming a union would ensure we have legal protections put in place in order to prevent conditions like this from arising again,” Muller said.
According to an employee of the Sixth Street Chipotle location, the company sent the human resources team to other area locations as well.
Erin Wolford, Chipotle’s vice president of external communications, declined to comment on the specific incident but did affirm the corporation’s commitment to supporting employees.
“We respect our employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act and are committed to ensuring a fair, just, and humane work environment that provides opportunities for all,” Wolford said via email.
Muller has already drafted a second petition, which now explains the controversy. She said she has found workers much more hesitant to engage after the field leaders’ conversations, and managers have told workers they aren’t allowed to speak about unionizing at work.
“When I accidentally left this document and work, and a manager knowingly threw it in the garbage,” Muller said. “By the time I went back to work to retrieve it, our regional field leader had come in and talked with every single person who signed their name and told them worst-case scenarios about the consequences of forming a union.”
Now, Muller said, many of her coworkers are unwilling to sign the petition again.
In addition to the alleged union-busting activities, Muller said the downtown store is severely understaffed, especially since a handful of employees recently quit.
“There have been times where we’ve run out of food and struggled to keep the store open,” she said.
According to the NLRB’s website, “If at least 30% of workers sign cards or a petition saying they want a union, the NLRB will conduct an election. If a majority of those who vote choose the union, the NLRB will certify the union as your representative for collective bargaining.”
In August, workers at a Chipotle in Lansing, Michigan became the first store to unionize, according to More Perfect Union.
Workers at a few local businesses have announced plans to unionize recently, including employees at one Lawrence Starbucks in March, and food service workers at Pioneer Ridge Retirement Community in September.
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.