NEW YORK—Ed Dealecio needed more hours, but his boss decided to hire more employees instead of offering Dealecio and his coworkers more shifts. Dealecio worked for nearly three years at a busy Chipotle burrito restaurant in midtown Manhattan. During the pandemic, he found himself facing increased financial pressure. He is still paying off his student loans and has had a rent hike.
Dealecio was one of several Chipotle workers named in a record $20 million settlement against Chipotle for violating the city’s Fair Work Week law. The settlement was announced by New York City Hall on August 9 and affects up to 13,000 workers.
The complaint described more than half a million labor violations by the company between 2017 and 2022. Any Chipotle employee in the city can claim $50 for each week worked during that time. Mayor Eric Adams called it “the largest worker protection settlement in New York City history” and the largest fair workweek settlement in the country so far.
The New York City Fair Work Week Act was signed into law on November 26, 2017, one of the first such laws in the country. It was designed to protect workers’ rights in terms of hours and dismissals. By law, workers are entitled to a regular long-term schedule.
Employers must publish timetables at least two weeks in advance. If the employer makes changes to the schedule within this two-week window, employees owe $10 for each change, increasing to $15 for each change made within one week of the schedule. This fee is increased if employees have their hours reduced, up to $75 per change with less than 24 hours’ notice.
Additionally, employers must pay a $100 bonus to employees who are asked to work both a closing shift and an opening shift a few hours later the following day, commonly referred to as a “cloning.” . The employee is also authorized to refuse a closure without risk of sanction.
Other parts of the law specify how and when employers can dismiss their workers. Companies can only fire employees for economic reasons and must start with the employees who have worked for the company the shortest time. Employers must also give their employees a written explanation if terminated or reduced hours, may not terminate or reduce a worker’s hours without cause, and must offer shifts to current employees before hiring. more workers.
The city received evidence showing that Chipotle violated nearly all of these provisions. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ played a major role in building a case against the fast food company between 2018 and 2019. The union has cooperated with Chipotle workers in dozens of places to collect evidence that the company was violating the Fair Work Week Act.
Dealecio is one of many Chipotle employees who expects to be compensated as part of the settlement. Dealecio tells people’s world that he hopes that he and his co-workers “eventually unionize so that we don’t have to worry about the laws that affect us anymore”, because he says that “work is stressful enough as it is”.
Days after the announcement, union leaders and elected officials attended a rally and introduced two bills to expand the tools the city has to enforce the Fair Work Week law.
A bill gives the city the power to deny or revoke restaurant permits for offenders. The other grants the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) the power to require companies that violate Fair Workweek to schedule a training session with all their employees where they will be informed of their rights by the DCWP.
The company will compensate workers for their time at this training session, as well as for travel time if the session is held away from the workers usual place of work. This is a major step in labor protection for the industry, which is notorious for flouting labor laws.
Empower service sector bosses
Across the country, there have been other recent examples of service and retail companies being forced to pay penalties after violating fair work week laws. The same day New York City announced the settlement with Chipotle, it also ordered a Staten Island Dunkin’ Donuts store to pay $260,000 in restitution and civil penalties after committing many of the same violations as Chipotle. .
In July 2021, a Pizza Hut located in the Bronx and a McDonald’s in Brooklyn had to be paid more than $90,000 and $130,000 respectively by the DCWP for the same schedule violations.
In Philadelphia, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, an upscale downtown restaurant, reached a settlement with the city to pay 90 workers $24,500 for violating labor laws. Philadelphia’s Fair Workweek law went into effect two years ago. This is the largest law-based settlement to date. The city may soon experience another major settlement: Two Walmart employees have filed a class action lawsuit over a series of schedule violations.
The Chipotle workers’ victory follows other union victories in New York’s service and retail sector. Staten Island’s Amazon Labor Union made national headlines when workers won an NLRB representation vote; Starbucks employees, store after store, are also winning votes; and app-based deliverers are organizing to better control their work experience.
Roberta Wood, a member of the Communist Party’s Labor Commission, notes that these victories are undoubtedly linked to the way in which the consequences of the pandemic have affected workers in retail and service industries unevenly.
“The essential worker,” she said, “has become an identity these workers have proudly harnessed to demand justice for the abuses that were present in the industry long before COVID-19.”
With the public more concerned about the safety and well-being of employees, workers were able to lead organizing campaigns that led to the adoption of labor protections never seen in this industry before. More importantly, this concern has also created leverage for these workers to call on the government to enforce laws that have been routinely broken in the past.