Brenda Garcia returned to work at the Chipotle on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing on May 2 for the first time since allegedly being fired in mid-April.
Garcia claims she was initially fired for calling in sick despite having three sick days to use. Her alleged firing came weeks after being featured in a New York Times article discussing Chipotle’s scheduling practices.
Garcia said that thanks in large part to support from 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), she was able to return to work. 32BJ SEIU filed charges under the National Labor Relations Act accusing Chipotle of firing her for union activity. Within four days, she was back to work there.
Garcia, a single mother of one, said she was fired in mid-April. Prior to her alleged termination, Garcia was allegedly speaking with her coworkers about the possibility of forming a union.
One of the provisions of the city Fair Workweek Law states employers must offer more hours and additional shifts to current employees before hiring new help. The city filed a lawsuit in 2021 alleging Chipotle had violated the Fair Workweek Law almost 600,000 times over the span of two years.
According to 32BJ, there is a dispute between Chipotle and Garcia over whether or not she was actually terminated. While Garcia has stated multiple times that she was told to her face that she was fired, a Chipotle spokesperson told QNS that she wasn’t being scheduled over the last two weeks of April because she had requested time off on April 18 and was never terminated in the first place.
“Our internal conversations with management at this restaurant show that Ms. Garcia was never terminated and that she verbally requested two weeks off on April 18. We reached out to her to address the claims, with no response, and [we] were pleased that she decided to return to work exactly two weeks later on May 2,” said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer.
However, Garcia disputes Chipotle’s claim and said she requested time off on April 15, following a dental procedure she had on April 14.
“The general manager said to my face on [April 18] that I shouldn’t come back to work. I asked for two weeks off on [April 15], not [April 18]. That was the day after I went to the dentist,” Garcia said. “Now I need more hours to survive.”
According to 32BJ President Kyle Bragg, the union still has a complaint filed against Chipotle alleging anti-union intimidation tactics and creating an atmosphere of surveillance. He cites incidents like this as reasons why Chipotle workers need unions.
“This shows that when we speak up we can make a difference,” Garcia said. “Chipotle must respect workers, give us the opportunity to grow and respect our right to organize a union. I’m ready to get my job back and to keep fighting for the shifts and a schedule that I need to survive and to support my son.”
32BJ SEIU Fast Food Director Autumn Weintraub said that the Unfair Labor Practice charge has been withdrawn and the union is “glad” Garcia has been reinstated.
Garcia was joined by Councilwoman Sandra Ung on May 2 as she went to Chipotle.
Ung emphasized the importance of unions and their ability to protect workers like Garcia in situations like this.
“I thank 32BJ for amplifying Brenda’s story, and for all it continues to do to support the fight for fair working conditions for working-class people,” Ung said. “Workers are human and need to take the appropriate time off when feeling ill, especially when they’re serving food prepared on site. When fast food workers get sick, we get sick.”