Last month, workers at a Chipotle restaurant in Lansing formed the Mexican-inspired fast-casual chain’s first union in the U.S.
The news is part of a wave of union victories at corporations like Starbucks and Amazon, and Chipotle is one of the largest fast food chains in the nation. Like many of these victories, the Lansing Chipotle labor organizing effort was led by the younger generation, who are fed up with the low wages and erratic scheduling endemic to working in the restaurant industry.
However, as the young workers told the labor publication Labor Notes, the real “radicalizing” moment came from a Marie Antoniette-esque “let them eat cake” moment.
According to Labor Notes, the workers felt disrespected during a sort of dog and pony show as part of the store’s general manager being promoted to “restaurateur” status, a special title used within the company that comes with a six-figure salary.
Allegedly, management cut hours in the lead up to a corporate inspection, which led to the store being overstaffed that day in order to make a good impression with the corporate drones. A fake schedule was even reportedly created to make everything seem normal.
But things came to a head when management trotted out the workers for a photo op with a cake and balloons with the letter “R” on them (for “restauranteur”).
“The really radicalizing thing that happened that day … is they brought all the crew members out and took a photo in front of a huge cake with balloons with ‘R’ on them,” organizing committee member Atulya Dora-Laskey told Labor Notes. “Then the managers all ate the cake and the crew members were sent to the back.”
Reportedly, while cleaning up, one of the crew members remarked, “I thought ‘R’ was going to be for ‘raise.’”
“That really set people off,” Dora-Laskey told the publication. “So after that we started looking into the union stuff more.”
A warning to corporate overlords: you’re going to have to give your workers more than cake if you want to prevent a labor rights uprising.