Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ICE Expands Probe And Crackdown On Chipotle Corporation For Hiring Undocumented Workers

Photos: SEIU

Lawsuit filed by 75 former employees against Chipotle.

By H. Nelson Goodson
February 8, 2011

Minneapolis, MN - Multiple protests by fired Chipotle Mexican Grill Hispanic employees and supporters had taken place in eight U.S. states, which were organized as a result of employee mistreatment and mass terminations by Chipotle management, reported the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The protests and sit-ins took place at Chipotle locations in CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, IL, NY and VA.
In early December, Chipotle management at Minneapolis-Saint Paul restaurants fired about 150 Hispanic workers without prior notice or explanation, and without a final pay check or back wages, according to SEIU. The Minneapolis restaurant claimed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had initiated an I-9 audit investigation in 8 Twin Cities Chipotle restaurants for hiring alleged undocumented workers. ICE would not elaborate on the Chipotle  I-9 audit. The Denver base Chipotle Corporation only admitted to complying with an ICE document request.
SEIU claims that those employees terminated by Chipotle were not allowed time to prove their legal status to work in the U.S. and that wages were withheld and not paid in a timely manner as state law required.
In January during a staged sit-in, eight protesters were arrested for civil disobedience at the Minneapolis downtown Chipotle restaurant. Fast food restaurants generate more than $300 billion in fast food sales. Chipotle has 1,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone.
So far from the 1,200 employee work records that were screened by ICE, at least 700 workers have been fired from the 50 Chipotle chain restaurants in Minnesota alone, according to SEIU Local 26. The employees are not union workers, but SEIU Local 26 has stepped in to protest the discriminatory process and no wage payment owed to those fired by Chipotle restaurants.
Chipotle corporate officials dispute that total, but haven't released their actual totals citing its an employee matter. The employees fired were suspected of using false identities and Social Security numbers when hired. A large number of the employees had worked between two to five years with Chipotle.
Last week, Co-Chief Executive Monty Moran told Rueters, that ICE had expanded their probe investigating the hiring of illegal workers by issuing "notices of inspection" for Chipotle Virginia and Washington D.C. chain restaurants.
In January several Chipotle employees who were terminated, Alejandro Juarez and Tanya Cortes filed a lawsuit against the Chipotle Corporation based in Denver for failing to do timely payment of wages after they were terminated as the state law Payment of Wages Act in Minnesota requires. In a joint lawsuit including 75 other workers, they are claiming that days after being terminated a letter requesting full payment of wages, bonuses and vacation pay owed to employees was filed with Chipotle. It wasn't until almost December 21, that they received some sort of payment from Chipotle. The employees are also requested a judge to classify their legal action as a Class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on January 27, at the Hennepin County Circuit Court, according to records.
Chipotle officials say, the fired employees were paid in full and the lawsuit has no merit, but failed to disclose the payment dates.
The wage state law requires employers to pay wages earned within 24 hours after an employee is terminated or payment demand is made and failure to comply, employers would have to pay up to 15 days wages for each day they fail to pay.
Some of the employees claimed that ICE was only targeting employees with Spanish surnames instead of actually checking the legal status of every employee, management and Chipotle corporate executive.
ICE has not commented on how many employees were facing deportation proceedings or on the allegations made by Chipotle employees that they were only targeting Latinos.

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