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Burrito bullies: NYC sues fast-food chain Chipotle amid accusations from workers the fast-food giant violated fair work week laws

2019-09-10

Chips and guacamole.

There aren’t a lot of perks that go along with slinging salsa for Chipotle, but a discount on food is one of them. So, Cruz Pacheco was a little caught off guard when she was fired over the summer and accused of stealing a bag of salty chips and a cup of creamy guacamole.

What didn’t surprise her was the timing. For weeks she had been complaining about short-notice changes to her hours that made it difficult to schedule doctors’ appointments for her mentally ill daughter.

When Pacheco accused managers in the Union Square Chipotle where she worked of violating the state’s fair work week law, she said she was tossed out with the leftover lettuce.

“What they did to me was very unfair,” the Spanish-speaking Pacheco said through an interpreter. “The workers are not getting their schedules in advance. It’s very frustrating to work for a company like that.”

Days after Pacheco talked with the Daily News about her plight, Mayor de Blasio and the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection announced a lawsuit against the fast food chain which prides itself for providing “food with integrity.” Chipotle’s accused of fair work week violations in the lawsuit, the mayor said.

At a press conference Tuesday, city and union officials announced a “large-scale” lawsuit with the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings against the company for the alleged workplace violations.

Sources said the city is seeking more than $1 million in penalties.

“What kind of integrity do you have when you’re violating the workers’ rights?” Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, told The News. “When this is something that is routinely done to people it’s just abuse. This is not food with integrity when people who work there are treated with such disrespect.”

According to Aldebol, Chipotle has resisted employees efforts to organize union representation.

Under the city’s fair work week law, which went into effect two years ago, employers must provide workers with two weeks advance notice of work schedules, and give existing workers priority for newly-available shifts before an employer hires new employees.

According to city and union and representatives of the Service Employees International Union, Chipotle has violated the fair work week law at four Brooklyn locations, including a restaurant at Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Heights, where the news conference was held.

The city’s Department of Consumer Affairs is also investigating additional complaints at 18 Manhattan Chipotle locations.

Chipotle representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment. There are 84 Chipotle stores in the five boroughs employing more than 2,000 workers

Jeremy Espinal said he was forced to seek a transfer after a Union Square Chipotle manager cut his summer hours without notice. Espinal, 20, a Hunter College nursing student, said he was all set to earn a little summer cash when his weekly hours were reduced from 25 to 11.

“I just finished my school year,” Espinal said. “It was summer and I was free.”

Espinal, who lives with his parents in the Bronx, and attends school on a scholarship, acknowledges he doesn’t face the dire financial straits that many of his co-workers do. But he said he is standing up to the burrito bosses because it’s the right thing to do.

Espinal said his father is a member of the union trying to help Chipotle workers.

“He knows I’m doing the right thing,” Espinal said. “All we ask for is what we deserve.”