About two dozen former employees of D.C. Chipotle restaurants gathered Wednesday outside a Columbia Heights location to protest their firings after the chain said they found discrepancies in employment documents.
Forty workers, many of whom are Hispanic immigrants, were terminated March 9 after the chain conducted a review of two D.C. restaurants and found that some workers could not prove their immigration status.
“We found that these workers were not legally authorized to work in this country,” said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. “Many workers left immediately, but we had to let others go because we can’t employ them under the law because they are not legally authorized to work in the United States.”
Several of those fired said they did not want to discuss their immigration status. They said they were most upset over how their dismissals were handled.
“I saw the workers shortly after they were fired,” said Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, who helped some of the former employees organize their protest. “Some were crying, some had been working for Chipotle for six years and many felt like they had been treated like trash.”
Uribe said workers at the Chipotle in Columbia Heights were taken to the back of the store on March 9 during their 30-minute break and fired. By the time they returned to the front of the restaurant, Uribe said they had already been replaced by workers from other restaurants.
“We’ve dedicated so much time to Chipotle, and for them to fire us all of a sudden, and in this way, made us feel terrible,” Yeny Portales, one of the fired workers, wrote in statement. “We felt like they didn’t value our years of service and that we, as their employees, didn’t matter to them.”
Workers were also let go from Woodley Park and Chinatown locations.
Fired employees say they want an apology for the way they were treated, a letter specifically stating why they were fired and all outstanding compensation including wages and overtime. Uribe said she has calculated that the workers are owed nearly $21,000.
D.C. Council member Michael Brown, who joined the workers at their protest, said in a statement that the issue was not the workers’ immigration status but how they were treated. “I want to make sure that all of these displaced workers are fairly compensated for their many hours of hard work.”
Chipotle, which has 1,100 stores , has been under increasing scrutiny from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency has ordered the chain to prove that its employees at locations across the country are eligible for employment in the United States. The company had to let go more than 400 workers in Minnesota last year because of problems with their immigration status.
Arnold said the company is committed to paying everyone everything they are owed. He said if there is anyone who does not feel they have been paid in full, they can contact the office and the company will look into it.