Members of the Show Me $15 labor-rights group gathered in front of a Chipotle restaurant Tuesday afternoon to protest the firing of an employee who says he was terminated for his organizing activities.
Patrick Leeper, 24, says the Chipotle at 6318 Delmar Boulevard in University City requires employees to attend a weekly, unpaid meeting every Sunday. But Leeper, who worked at the fast-food franchise for three years, called in sick. A supervisor said there was no problem and that he would be filled in on the meeting the next day. But when Leeper returned to work, Tim Wurdack, the head manager, said he was fired.
Leeper says that calling in sick to a meeting was just an excuse to fire an employee whose protesting activities were well-known to management.
"I'd been warned several times, as far as protesting and fighting for a higher wage, that I can't do that in my workplace," Leeper says. "I was told that if I talked to another one of my coworkers about wages, that I would be let go. That was maybe two, three weeks ago. As far as my involvement in protests, Chipotle has not backed me up at all."
In a prepared statement about the protest, Wurdack tells us that Leeper's termination had nothing to do with politics.
"Patrick Leeper was terminated for reasons solely related for his failure to fulfill job responsibilities," he says. "His termination had nothing to do with his protest activities, which we've accommodated in the past."
But Leeper, who went from $8.00 to $8.80 an hour during his three years at Chipotle, insists he did his job well.
"A lot of people know me, they see me and know that I'm a good worker," he says. "And to be let go for something so small -- it wasn't because I was late to a meeting, it's because they felt threatened by my involvement in the movement."
The Chipotle protest comes one week before a day of global protest of fast-food workers. According to a press release from Show Me $15, workers in 150 cities around the world will walk out to protest low wages.
In the United States, the strike could include 33 cities, including St. Louis.
Globally, the protests are even being held in countries where fast-food workers make about three times more than the minimum wage is in the U.S. -- but only out of solidarity for their American counterparts.
"In Denmark, McDonald's pays me $21 an hour and respects our union, so I was surprised when I heard workers in the U.S. had to fight so hard for just $15 and better rights," says Danish McDonald's worker Louise Marie Rantzau. "Fast-food companies need to treat the people who make and serve their food with the same respect everywhere, and workers in Denmark are committed to supporting the workers' cause until that happens."
For those wondering, a Big Mac in Denmark does cost more than it does in the U.S., but it's by less than $1, according to the Economist.
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