In a move that could be monumental for service workers across the country, Trader Joe’s workers in western Massachusetts have filed to form a union weeks after taking their unionization effort public.
Workers organizing under their union, Trader Joe’s United, in Hadley, Massachusetts, petitioned for a union election on Tuesday to form a union for the roughly 85 person unit, with support from over 50 percent of employees, according to one union organizer. Workers had previously announced their union effort in a letter to CEO Dan Bane in May, but the company had declined to voluntarily recognize the union.
If the union succeeds, not only will they form the first-ever union for the company’s workers, but they will also lend major legitimacy to their independently-formed union, created similarly to the independent Amazon Labor Union. This would make waves within the supposedly progressive company with over 530 locations and 50,000 employees.
The union effort could also spread to other locations as it comes amid successful union efforts that have galvanized non-union employees at companies like Amazon and Starbucks; in just the past months, Starbucks employees have formed unions at 135 stores, with new wins coming in weekly.
Workers say that, though Trader Joe’s has a reputation for treating its employees well, their pay and benefits have been slowly eroding, especially over the pandemic.
“Our benefits and our pay were just less supportive than they had been previously,” Hadley employee and union organizer Maeg Yosef told NPR. “We saw a lot of changes to our retirement and our health care. We saw our wages not keeping up with increased cost of living and then the pandemic just added to that sense of feeling undervalued and unappreciated.”
For instance, Yosef said that the company used to offer a 15 percent contribution to workers’ retirement funds each year when she started 18 years ago. That guarantee was later brought down to 10 percent, and then to zero last year when the company tweaked language in its employee handbook to specify that employees aren’t guaranteed retirement contributions.
Problems like decreasing benefits and increased health and safety concerns were only magnified by the way the company handled the COVID-19 pandemic, workers say. Though the company had offered measures like hazard pay and limited the number of customers in the store at once early in the pandemic, these rules were retracted as vaccines became available but the pandemic continued to rage on.
A company spokesperson said that the company is “not interested in delaying the process in any way” and that it would welcome a union election, which is a similar message it gave to workers when they announced their union campaign.
Despite this neutral-sounding pledge, however, the company has been fighting against the union effort. As HuffPost reports, Trader Joe’s United has now filed several unfair labor practice charges against the company over alleged unlawful union-busting practices, including sending a worker home for wearing a union pin at work, removing union pamphlets from employee areas and preventing workers from speaking to each other about their wages.
The company has also sent President of Stores Jon Basalone to the location, claiming it was a regular visit that was unrelated to the union — though anti-union companies like Starbucks frequently send their executives to surveil and intimidate organizing workers.