Trader Joe’s workers in Massachusetts are forming their own union in order to combat what they describe as a toxic work culture cultivated by the supposedly progressive company.
Workers at a Trader Joe’s location in Hadley, Massachusetts, sent a letter to CEO Dan Bane on Saturday announcing their intent to unionize and calling on the company to refrain from interfering with the union drive. They say that, despite the company’s image as an employee-friendly workplace, workers have been facing deteriorating working conditions and decreasing benefits over the past years.
“Two years ago, in March of 2020, you mailed a letter to our homes. In this letter, you argued against unionization, asserting that unions were attempting to “drive discontent,” the workers wrote. “Since that letter arrived in our mailboxes, Trader Joe’s has continued to slash our benefits as our wages stagnate and our safety concerns go unaddressed. We’ve come to the conclusion that, in fact, a union is the only way to protect and improve our pay and benefits.”
The workers say that they’re organizing “[Amazon Labor Union] style,” meaning that they’re aiming to form their own independent union without support from a major labor group to take on the multi-billion dollar company. Labor experts say that the independence of Amazon Labor Union may have been crucial to its success in unionizing an Amazon warehouse in New York.
In interviews with More Perfect Union, the workers described a work culture that has increasingly treated workers as disposable.
“The customers really, really have this idea that Trader Joe’s is this amazing place to work and they take such good care of us because that used to be true,” Sarah Yosef, who has worked for Trader Joe’s for over 18 years, told More Perfect Union. “I think everything that we’re asking for is what Trader Joe’s is pretending to give us.”
Indeed, Trader Joe’s has projected an image of itself as a liberal company that treats its workers well. But workers say that this image is just a front. After employee Maeg Yosef came back from pandemic leave, “it felt like they weren’t even pretending to care anymore,” they told More Perfect Union.
One Massachusetts worker, Woody Hoagland, said that he had his health care benefits slashed when he got cancer. “Survived cancer in 2019 and part of that journey was having to fight for my health care from the company,” Hoagland said. “I know that they didn’t want to see me dead from cancer, but they also didn’t want to pay any more than they had to. And as soon as they were able to remove me from their health insurance they did.”
Workers say that they’re aiming to form a more inclusive workplace in which they feel like they have a say in safety concerns and wages.
If they are successful, they would become the first unionized Trader Joe’s in the U.S. But they aren’t the first Trader Joe’s workers to try to unionize. As the pandemic arose in 2020, a group of workers known as the Trader Joe’s Union Coalition circulated a petition asking the company to continue its hazard pay policy after it cut its nationwide hazard pay after just a few months.
The workers aimed to unionize their stores, but the company came down hard on the union drive. In March of last year, Bane sent a letter to all employees saying that unionization is “a distraction.” The company also hired anti-union lawyers from notorious union-busting firm Littler Mendelson in order to quash the union effort.
After the company settled one unfair labor practice charge and fired several workers over 2020 and 2021, the union drives appeared to have fizzled out; the last time that the Trader Joe’s Union Coalition tweeted was in July of last year.