By Moses Kuwema
Democratic US representative-elect for New York's 15th Congressional District Ritchie Torres has said he would not stand idle and allow corporations to profit from the exploitation and endangerment of his constituents.
Reacting to a walk off the job by Chipotle workers at E260 161 street in the Bronx's Melrose section on Tuesday because they felt unsafe when the restaurant kept the store open despite a positive COVID-19 test among staff, Congressman Torres who appeared in a Zoom press conference Wednesday with the workers, said he was inspired by their action.
"I am just inspired by your courage and thank you for standing up to a predatory employer. I am here in Washington DC because I am appalled by the behaviour of Chipotle.
"The company knew that one of its employees had COVID-19 and did nothing. Instead of doing the right thing, instead of notifying its employees, instead of closing its establishment, the company chose to keep its workers in the dark and chose to endanger their health and safety.
"As far as I am concerned, this company is an embarrassment. It has no regard for the health and safety of its workers, no regard for the dignity of life.
"Those of us in elected office and I know I speak for Mark Levine as well, those of us in the labour movement, we will not stand by idle and allow a corporation to profit from the exploitation and endangerment of our constituents," Congressman Torres said.
"One thing you should know is that you're essential workers. You're entitled to fair wages, fair benefits and fair scheduling and safety conditions.
"That's not a gift from the corporation. That is your right that reflects the value of the essential work that you do. I am here to equivocally state that I stand with you in holding Chapotle accountable until there is justice in the workplace.
"I am gonna stand with you 100 percent. I wanna thank 32BJ for being at the forefront of organizing some of the most exploited workers in the American workforce," he added.
Chapotle had initially announced that they were closing the store for cleaning and paying workers to quarantine for two weeks but the store opened Wednesday morning before shutting down again owing to the pressure from the workers' union representatives 32BJ SEIU.
As of Thursday, the restaurant was open to business and it was not yet clear if the workers' concerns were addressed.
"Chipotle workers face risks every day but Chipotle cut hazard pay over the summer. Workers are demanding that hazard pay be reinstated," said Jesus Castrejon, a Bronx Chipotle worker.
"My team and I in the Bronx went on strike because Chipotle failed to inform us that we may have been exposed to coronavirus.
"The company chose profit over safety when they chose to remain open despite the virus exposure we had," said Albert Morales, another Bronx Chipotle worker.
Jeremy Espinal, a Chipotle worker at 504, 6th Avenue in Manhattan, New York called on Chipotle to close down their stores when a member of staff tests positive for COVID.
"Chipotle is being very vague on who gets and how to get the two weeks paid vacation and that is not only a danger to us workers but also you guys as customers.
"It does not sensitize us to stay home if we are sick or if we have loved ones that are sick. Instead it makes us more confused and we continue to come into work.
"And Chipotle isn't gonna be paying us or they're gonna make us jump through hoops to get paid. They have to close these stores instead," Espinal said in a video posted to Twitter.