Massachusetts Trader Joe’s Workers Run For Election To Form Company’s First Union

Massachusetts Trader Joe’s Workers Run For Election To Form Company’s First Union

Massachusetts Trader Joe’s Workers Run For Election To Form Company’s First Union

Massachusetts merchant Joe’s employees, who hope to form the supermarket chain’s first union, say they’ve gathered enough signatures from their colleagues to hold an election at their store.

The nascent union campaign known as Trader Joe’s United announced Wednesday that it had filed a petition asking the National Labor Relations Board to vote for the store in Hadley, north of Springfield. The campaign is a new, independent group that is not affiliated with an established union.

At least 30% of a workplace must sign union authorization cards to ensure that the NLRB green-lights an election. Trader Joe’s United said it had collected “well over” that many signatures, without giving an exact figure. The labor council must review the workers’ petition to determine whether they have crossed the threshold and have the right to vote.

A successful union campaign at one of Trader Joe’s stores could quickly spread to other stores within the chain of more than 500 locations. That’s clearly been the case for Starbucks, where employees have unionized more than 120 stores in a matter of months, after the company was ununified for decades.

“We have a lot of support and we’re just moving forward as best we can.”

– Maeg Yosef, Trader Joe’s United

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told HuffPost earlier this week that it welcomed a vote and would not get in the way of one.

“We believe Trader Joe’s is a great place to work and our compensation, benefits and benefits are among the best in the food industry. We welcome an honest vote and are willing to vote if more than 30% of the crew want one,” spokesman Nakia Rohde said in an email, using the company term for employees.

Trader Joe’s has rejected union activity in the past. In 2020, CEO Dan Bane called a union organizing campaign a “distraction,” saying a union couldn’t improve Trader Joe’s offerings. He invited a union vote wherever workers wanted it.

HuffPost reported Tuesday that employees of the Hadley store have filed suit against the company for unfair labor practices, accusing managers of interfering with their union efforts. Two workers told HuffPost they had been ordered to remove their union pins or go home without pay for a day. Under NLRB precedent, there are few circumstances in which an employer can legally require an employee to remove union insignia.

Maeg Yosef, an 18-year-old Trader Joe’s employee and spokesperson for the union campaign, told HuffPost she was one of those told to remove their pins. She said management had also removed union literature from a cafeteria at one point. Although the campaign does not have employment lawyers, labor lawyers have advised workers about their rights, according to Yosef.

“We have a lot of support and we’re just moving forward as best we can,” she said.

Trader Joe's has rejected union activity in the past.  In 2020, CEO Dan Bane called a union organizing campaign a
Trader Joe’s has rejected union activity in the past. In 2020, CEO Dan Bane called a union organizing campaign a “distraction,” saying a union couldn’t improve Trader Joe’s offerings.

SOPA images via Getty Images

Josef said the perception of many Trader Joe’s employees has changed in recent years. The grocer has long been seen as a decent place to work with good benefits, but the company has taken some steps that have angered old employees. As HuffPost recently reported, it cut retirement benefits for many employees in half this year, reducing the company’s 401(k) contribution from 10% of wages earned in a year to 5%.

Jamie Edwards, a Hadley store organizer who has worked at Trader Joe’s for nine years, said the grocer lost much of its luster as workers toiled through the pandemic, feeling their safety concerns were not being taken seriously. Edwards’ pension contributions were reduced, despite a nearly ten-year tenure.

“I feel like the company did everything it could to get people to join a union,” Edwards said.

By refusing to join a well-known union, Trader Joe’s United is following a path similar to the Amazon Labor Union, which sent a stunning shock to an Amazon warehouse in New York’s Staten Island earlier this year. Independent union efforts typically lack the resources and experience of well-funded labor campaigns, but they are more immune to management’s attempts to portray them as a “third party” since everyone involved in the union is an employee.

Election requests are sometimes withdrawn after they have been submitted if it appears that the union does not have sufficient support. That was initially the case with the Amazon Labor Union, which filed an election, withdrew that petition and then resubmitted it for the ultimately successful vote in March.

A trade union must obtain a simple majority of the votes cast to become the workers’ representative. Unions usually go for an election once they gain the support of a supermajority in the workplace, assuming the company will launch an aggressive anti-union campaign that erodes support. But they can still succeed by running for elections with only a minority of support, as the Amazon Labor Union did, as long as they continue to organize and expand their base in the run-up to the vote.

Yosef said the Hadley store recently received a visit from a Trader Joe executive, Jon Basalone, the chain’s store director. The company said the visit was standard practice, but Josef said it believes it was certainly linked to union efforts.

“If they come here and send Jon Basalone already, I think it just means they’re so scared,” she said.