Chipotle Will Now Give Hourly Workers Paid Sick Days and Vacation

June 8th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Starting on July 1, all employees of the popular Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle will get expanded benefits that were formerly reserved for those on salaries with the company. 

The benefits, which will include full tuition reimbursements as well as paid sick leave and vacation time for employees, were announced at a marketing and human resources conference late last week, according to the Nation's Restaurant News

"We just made an announcement internally that we are now going to be offering sick pay and paid vacation time for all employees at all levels of the company, including all entry-level employees," said JD Cummings, a recruitment strategy manager for the Denver-based company on Thursday. "And we're going to be offering the full-tuition reimbursement that we offer salaried employees to all hourly employees." 

"It's an incredible statement by our leadership about how much we want to invest in the best people we have and to keep them with us," he added. 

According to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a non-profit restaurant worker advocacy group, nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers––"the people who touch, cook, prepare and serve food to millions of restaurant-goers each year"––do not have paid sick days. And in most cases, that presents a problem for lower income workers who must decide whether to work while ill in order to put food on their table.

For workers with no paid sick leave, feeling under the weather "can mean being forced to choose between a day's pay or staying home to take care of themselves or their family, but unfortunately, most restaurant workers can't afford to lose a day's pay, so they instead resort to working while sick," ROC wrote in an announcement about Chipotle's decision. 

"Chipotle's decision represents a significant step to help standardize paid sick days and other basic benefits for workers throughout the restaurant industry," the organization wrote. 

The company's move comes amid a wide-reaching national struggle to raise restaurant and low-wage worker pay to a livable wage, and also as numerous cities move to raise their minimum wages to $15 an hour. It also comes as a growing public awareness of the economic realities of low-wage restaurant work––thanks in large part to huge protests in recent months––and the implications it has for both service workers and taxpaying customers. As a recent ROC report detailed, on top of many restaurant workers' inability to pay their way through everyday life, the cost of public assistance to families of full-service workers (think Olive Garden, Applebees, etc.) amounts to a staggering $9,434,067,497 every year

But Chipotle's move could signal a sea-change for restaurant operators and their trade groups in the face of growing public concern, despite the aggressive lobbying employed by the trade group National Restaurant Association to keep wages low. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers, for example, has been at $2.13 per hour since 1991. According to the ROC report, the five largest restaurant operators (Darden, Dine Equity, Bloomin' Brands, Brinker International, and Cracker Barrel) have spent more than a combined $3.2 million on federal lobbying activities to fight against a higher minimum wage for their employees. 

To learn more about how you are subsidizing low wage restaurant workers, watch this 75 second video: