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Chipotle executive seeks immigration reform

Throughout the nation, over the past year, employers of illegal workers have faced immigration enforcement from the United State's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Popular chain restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill was especially hard hit when an inspection completed as part of a silent raid uncovered more than 500 workers who were undocumented. As a result of the employment immigration inspection, more than 450 employees were let go in Minnesota alone. Restaurants in Virginia and Washington, D.C. also were affected.

Many likely assume that in the current job market the positions left open were quickly filled. This however, is not the case. The quality of applicants the company must now interview has resulted in seeing three to four more individuals to fill each opening. The problem is illustrated in the results of a recent job fair in Washington state. After interviewing 100 candidates, only eight were hired.

Another factor contributing to the difficulty in hiring is likely the open knowledge that the business now takes part in a federal worker-screening program.

While it is not uncommon for restaurants in the fast-food industry to see turnover rates in triple-digits, Chipotle's numbers were historically under 100 percent. Since the crackdown however, the number has risen to more than 125 percent nationwide. Currently close to 50 percent of its employees are Hispanics.

The chain is growing quickly and the business views immigrants as an important element necessary to achieve success. For this reason, the company's co-chief executive, is pushing for immigration reform and has met with leaders in Washington, D.C. regarding the matter. According to the executive, the business needs to be able to hire legal workers who are strong and this would not be addressed by a proposed temporary guest-worker program since the business is not seasonal.

Adding to the company's desire for immigration reform that is not seasonally based is the fact that the business strives to strengthen the chain by promoting from within. According to one estimate, close to 97 percent of the restaurant's managers were once workers in the service line.

Whether the executive's efforts will be rewarded remains to be seen. In the meantime, the business is still dealing with the government's investigation. A fine and criminal charges may still be forthcoming.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "A CEO's Demand: Fix Immigration," Miriam Jordan, Dec. 19, 2011

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