"Chipotle, shame on you! Farm workers deserve rights too!" shouted protesters in New York on Wednesday. It was a "national day of action," and labor advocates across the country tried to pressure Chipotle, for the sixth year, to sign onto a "fair food" agreement, which they say would ensure better conditions for the restaurant chain's tomato growers in Florida.
But at Chipotle Mexican Grill's 1,200 locations, there's little controversy about worker conditions. Chipotle isn't a normal fast-food restaurant; under its "Food With Integrity" mantra, the chain demands that a certain percentage of its ingredients are organic and local, and it serves more naturally-raised meat (not pumped with hormones or antibiotics) than any other restaurant chain in America. And Chipotle treats its employees with integrity too -- at least that's what many of them say.
A crew member is paid an average of $8.51 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com, compared to $7.63 at McDonald's, $7.69 at Wendy's, and $7.80 at Burger King. Still, some Chipotle employees gripe anonymously on Glassdoor.com that they're underpaid, given the intensity of the grind.
"Full-time effort for part-time pay," wrote one crew member in Brunswick, Ohio. "The amount of pressure for a burrito joint is unheard of!" chirped another in Austin, Texas. And true enough, most Chipotle employees work full-time hours, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said, although schedules can vary.
All that effort can bring its rewards, though. Ninety-eight percent of managers are promoted from within, according to Arnold, and it isn't rare for a crew member to move up the ladder within a matter of months, and become a general manager by year's end.
And that's no PR shtick. "Being promoted is easy if you put the time into learning everything you need to and remain invested with the company," said one service manager in Capitola, Calif. "Managers take a personal interest in ways to help you succeed and it's from the ground up."
Successful general managers can then go on to become restaurateurs, complete with company car and stock options, Arnold added. Figures compiled by Glassdoor.com put the general manager/restaurateur salary in the range of $41,000 to $60,000, but Arnold says bonuses can push that number into the six-figures.
Chipotle offers other benefits too: access to health insurance, 401(k) participation, bonuses, uniforms and, if you want, a free braised carnitas crispy taco on every lunch break. And while the work can be exhausting, and the assembly lines often understaffed, employees say, it also can actually be a pretty good time.
"They STRIVE for a great culture," wrote one former general manager in Minneapolis on Glassdoor.com. That might be because managers don't focus primarily on their applicants' restaurant experience, but rather on 13 specific personality traits.
It may sound a little cultish, but apparently it works. "These characteristics, such as being honest, happy, infectiously enthusiastic and the like are things that can't really be taught by the time someone is an adult; you either have them or you don't," explained Arnold over email. "We can teach you how to do the jobs in our restaurants -- in fact, we prefer to -- but we can't teach you those traits."
Are the employees at Chipotle really honest, happy and infectiously enthusiastic about their work? AOL Jobs swung by a Chipotle restaurant two blocks from our office for some field research. "How do you like working here?" we asked the guy who rung up our lunch.
"It's great," he replied. "The food is SO GOOD."
AOL Jobs took a bite of our veggie burrito, and nodded.
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