The National Labor Relations Board ruled in a decision released Thursday that fast-casual chain Chipotle broke labor law when management fired an employee of a Missouri store who'd taken part in fast-food strikes.
The ruling from the board affirms a decision issued against Chipotle by an administrative law judge earlier this year. As a result, Chipotle has been ordered to reinstate the worker with back pay, and to post a humbling notice of employees' labor rights inside the store.
The notice pledges that workers will have the right to "form, join, or assist a union," and that Chipotle "will not discharge or otherwise discriminate against any of you for engaging in protected concerted activities."
A Chipotle spokesperson said the company does not comment on litigation.
According to the ruling, a worker named Patrick Leeper was fired in 2014 after missing a staff meeting at his store in St. Louis. Leeper had worked at the burrito chain for three years and earned $8.80 per hour, a little more than a dollar over the minimum wage. He had joined a local worker group that's part of the Fight for $15, a union-backed campaign aimed at raising wages in the fast-food industry, and taken part in three strikes shaming Chipotle and other chains over low pay.
Healy was reprimanded after discussing with his co-workers how much they earn, even though such discussions are protected under the law, according to the decision. Healy was allegedly told that "the next time I hear you speaking about wages in the workplace, we will be parting ways." The judge found that such an admonition violated Healy's rights.
The judge also found that Healy was treated unfairly when he was canned after oversleeping and missing the staff meeting. Other workers who were discharged for similar offenses hadn't even worked at Chipotle for three months, compared to Healy's three years. And another employee who had missed a store meeting was merely given a written warning, according to the decision. Chipotle, the judge wrote, "did not discipline employees as severely, if at all, for missing or being late to all-store meetings."
The protests in St. Louis involving Healy were spearheaded by a group called the Mid-South Workers Organizing Committee. That group is funded by the Service Employees International Union, which has coordinated the national Fight for 15. The campaign's periodic one-day strikes in cities around the country have roiled the fast-food industry, shining a spotlight on the plight of workers earning as little as $7.25 an hour.
The SEIU and its affiliates have brought a raft of so-called unfair labor practice charges against Chipotle and other fast-food chains, claiming they trampled the rights of activist-workers like Healy. Late last year, the labor board issued 13 complaints against McDonald's and several of its franchisees, accusing them of retaliating against workers who joined the strikes.