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A Chipotle restaurant in Michigan becomes the first in the chain to unionize

A Chipotle sign hangs outside the chain restaurant in Pittsburgh on Feb. 8, 2016. In June 2022, employees of the Augusta, Maine, Chipotle filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking to hold a union election at the store. The NLRB had scheduled a hearing July 19, 2022. But Chipotle announced the same day it was permanently closing the store.
Keith Srakocic
/
AP
A Chipotle sign hangs outside the chain restaurant in Pittsburgh on Feb. 8, 2016. In June 2022, employees of the Augusta, Maine, Chipotle filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking to hold a union election at the store. The NLRB had scheduled a hearing July 19, 2022. But Chipotle announced the same day it was permanently closing the store.

A Chipotle restaurant in Lansing, Mich., voted Thursday to unionize, making it the first of the chain's nearly 3,000 locations to do so.

The employees are seeking improved schedules and higher wages, and first filed for a union election July 5.

"Today's victory is an amazing moment for our team that has worked so hard and spent many months organizing," said Samantha Smith, 18, a crew member who has worked at the location for over two years. "We set out to show that our generation can make substantial change in this world and improve our working conditions by taking action collectively.

Employees at the location first filed for a union election July 5. They are being backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union with 1.2 million members across professions such as warehouse workers, pilots, public defenders and more.

"Forming a union will allow us to have a true voice on the job and force Chipotle to address our concerns," said Harper McNamara, 19, a crew member who, like Smith, has also been there for more than two years. "I am so proud of all those who were involved in this effort, and showed the courage needed to take on a huge corporation."

An Augusta, Maine, location filed a union election petition in July, but Chipotle permanently closed the restaurant later that month, according to reports.

A Chipotle spokesperson acknowledged the employees' action, saying the company was "disappointed" by the vote.

"At Chipotle, our employees are our greatest asset, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve upon their workplace experience," Chipotle's chief corporate affairs officer Laurie Schalow said in a statement. "We continue to believe that working directly together is best for our employees."

Schalow touted various employee benefits at Chipotle, such as tuition reimbursement, health care and quarterly bonuses that totaled $37 million between 100,000 employees.

The vote in Lansing is the latest move in unionization efforts at some of the country's largest companies, such as Starbucks, Amazon and Apple.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie