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Union study points to food safety risks at Chipotle restaurants

The Chipotle Mexican Grill at One MetroTech Center in Brooklyn, pictured Feb. 6. Mayor Bill De Blasio filed a lawsuit against the restaurant company last September after workers at five Brooklyn Chipotle locations complained about violations of the Fair Workweek Law. (Photo by Grant Lancaster)

BY GRANT LANCASTER

A study by a New York-based labor union in partnership with a consumer advocacy group showed evidence that workers at Chipotle Mexican Grill were pressured to work quickly or while ill, leading to food safety violations.

The authors of the study, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and the National Consumers League, interviewed 47 workers at 25 New York City Chipotle locations who said that managers forced them to work quickly in order to meet performance goals that netted manager bonuses.

The study further alleged that Chipotle management knew about supposedly independent health inspections in advance, contributing to food safety risks for consumers, according to a press release.

The report prompted City Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the legislature’s Health Committee,  to call for a public hearing about fast food safety in New York City, according to a press release Thursday afternoon.

“The serious health and safety concerns the report brings to light are deeply troubling to me,” Levine said in the release.

Levine has not picked a date for the hearing yet, but plans to use the hearing to take a broad look into food safety practices in the city’s fast food industry as a whole, said Win Roosevelt, director of communications and legislative advisor for the Councilman.

“We want to make it into a somewhat bigger investigation to make sure everyone is upholding food standards,” Roosevelt said.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, thinks that the findings reflect Chipotle management’s failure to adequately respond to past food safety crises that left consumers ill, she said in the release.

“If Chipotle executive management and the Food Safety Advisory Council are responsible for making sure that this program is implemented effectively to keep the public safe, they have been asleep at the wheel,” Greenberg said.

The Chipotle Mexican Grill location at One MetroTech Center in Brooklyn displayed signs notifying customers of equipment issues preventing them from serving carne asada, chicken, steak or fajitas Thursday, Feb. 6. (Photo by Grant Lancaster)

The study authors recommend that Chipotle takes steps to encourage workers to use their paid sick leave when ill, keep the inspection process impartial by ensuring managers do not have advance warning, institute a fair workweek policy that allows employees to better predict their schedules and other steps to encourage employees to report dangerous or uncomfortable situations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio filed a lawsuit against Chipotle last September that “alleges that Chipotle violated nearly every aspect of the City’s Fair Workweek Law, including failing to provide good faith estimates of work schedules and schedules two weeks in advance, failing to get consent and pay premiums for last minute schedule changes and for working ‘clopenings,’ and failing to offer newly available shifts to current employees,” according to a Sept. 10 press release.

The lawsuit resulted from complaints filed by more than 30 workers at five Chipotle locations in Brooklyn.

Chipotle officials investigate all allegations as soon as they have access to the relevant information, Chipotle’s Chief Reputation Officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement Thursday.

Chipotle offers a quarterly bonus for all employees, not just managers, worth up to a month of pay per year, and one of the requirements for this bonus is following safe food handling practices, Schalow said.

Employees are encouraged to contact Chipotle management about any concerns using an anonymous phone number, Schalow said.

“We are committed to a culture of food safety in our restaurants where employees are supported and heard,” Schalow said.

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