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Trader Joe’s Workers Will Vote on Forming Company’s First Union This Month

The union drive is already spreading, as workers in Minneapolis also recently filed for a union election.

A sign for Trader Joe's supermarket is pictured in San Ramon, California, on July 3, 2020.

Trader Joe’s workers in Massachusetts recently announced that they’ve gotten an official union election date — a vote that could produce the company’s first-ever union.

The in-person election for the workers in Hadley, Massachusetts, is scheduled for July 27 and 28, Trader Joe’s United announced. This means that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has certified that at least 30 percent of workers have signed union cards — though workers say that they have the support of over half of the about 81-person unit, which is enough to win the election.

“We are thrilled to finally have an election date, and we can’t wait to see the final vote count,” Trader Joe’s United organizer Tony Falco said in a press release.

Like Amazon Labor Union, which produced Amazon’s first-ever union, the Trader Joe’s employees are seeking to form an independent union, with no affiliation to established labor unions. Although Trader Joe’s said in a statement that the union is “[Service Employees International Union]-backed,” per the Daily Hampshire Gazette, union leaders have said that the company’s claim is false.

Amazon Labor Union’s strategy of forming a union from scratch has shaken up traditional labor organizers’ views of how to achieve major wins within the labor movement. Trader Joe’s United may see similar success, as a fresh generation of labor organizers are repeatedly notching wins at a time when union membership is declining and some established unions, like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), are spending less on organizing.

Indeed, there is already evidence that the Trader Joe’s Union may be spreading across the country. Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Minneapolis filed to form a union last week. The location is the second in Trader Joe’s United’s campaign to file for unionization.

Workers at Trader Joe’s have complaints about their workplaces that are similar to those of unionizing workers at places like Apple, Starbucks and REI. While the company has painted itself as a progressive organization that prioritizes the wants and needs of its employees, workers say that their relationship with management has been steadily eroding as the company reduces their benefits and pay and increasingly views the workers as disposable. This sentiment especially increased during the pandemic, workers say.

“Over time, Trader Joe’s has slashed benefits, retirement benefits in particular,” Minneapolis Trader Joe’s worker Sarah Beth Ryther told More Perfect Union. Ten years ago, the company offered a 15 percent guaranteed retirement contribution, but that benefit has been slashed to zero — what the company calls a “discretionary contribution” — which Ryther said “leav[es] employees with absolutely no idea how much they’re going to be receiving.”

Workers in both Hadley and Minneapolis say that the company has been harshly retaliating against pro-union workers. The union has filed several unfair labor practice charges against the company over the Hadley unionization effort, saying that the company sent a worker home for wearing a union pin and has barred workers from discussing their wages.

Meanwhile, workers in Minneapolis say that the company recently fired a pro-union employee who had worked for the company for 13 years, claiming that the employee had a “negative impact” on other workers.

The campaign comes as workers at other companies are winning unions in spite of harsh union-busting tactics. Last week, REI workers in Berkeley, California, officially kicked off their union campaign and created a petition asking REI to recognize their union. Though the California workers are seeking to join a different union, the petition filing comes on the heels of a successful union drive in New York, where REI workers voted to form a union in March.

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