Trader Joe’s workers fight for unionization across the Northeast

Geoffrey Shamah

Employees at large corporations are collectivizing in record numbers across the country and demanding better pay, health care benefits and safer working conditions. Workers at two locations of the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s are the latest to join in these efforts.

Union election petitions in the nation went up 57% in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year compared to 2021, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Despite record levels of unionization efforts, executives in big business have discouraged collective bargaining for years.

A 2020 letter written by Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane insisted the pay and benefits that the company offers its retail employees are “outstanding,” and any attempt at unionization is nothing more than a “distraction” from productivity.

However, Bane’s sentiments may not line up with reality.

After months of anti-union rhetoric and intimidation tactics from the corporate level, employees at a location in Hadley, Massachusetts, filed a petition on June 8 with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election.

If the effort is successful, the cohort of around 85 Trader Joe’s workers would create the company’s first union, called Trader Joe’s United.

Workers announced their intentions to unionize in an open letter to Bane in May.

In it, they cited coronavirus-related health and safety concerns, a dramatic decrease in retirement benefits and changes in healthcare benefits.

They believe that collective action is the only way to “protect and improve our pay and benefits.”

“Trader Joe’s has continued to slash our benefits as our wages stagnate and our safety concerns go unaddressed,” the Trader Joe’s United Organizing Committee wrote in the letter.

The concerns of Trader Joe’s employees aren’t confined to the Hadley location.

A video shared on Twitter showed employees at a location in the Manhattan neighborhood of Murray Hill demanding increased safety protocols following an incident that occurred late last week.

A disgruntled Trader Joe’s employee allegedly threatened to open fire at the store on June 2 after an altercation with a manager. The store closed early, but management failed to communicate the safety threat and delayed telling employees until the following day.

Although the New York location hasn’t officially attempted to unionize, this incident prompted employees to demand the creation of a reformed, democratically-elected safety team and a staff-drafted safety playbook that contains emergency protocols.

Over 60 employees signed a petition to increase safety protocols in the store, and a few of them staged a walkout to demonstrate discontent with current safety measures.

An employee noted how higher-ups at Trader Joe’s have tried to suppress knowledge of the unionization efforts and quell their momentum.

“They are trying to sweep this whole thing under the rug,” an employee, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their job, told The Ticker .

Successful unionization efforts have created a snowball effect across chain brands.

Unionization efforts by Trader Joe’s employees follow in the footsteps of workers at companies like Starbucks Corp. and Inc.

Since its first successful vote in Buffalo, New York, in December 2021, Starbucks has seen almost 300 locations in 35 states file for union elections, with 158 locations winning.

Despite the anti-union efforts by executives at Trader Joe’s and other large companies, the momentum created by these unionization efforts in chain stores nationwide does not appear to be collapsing soon.