Workers at Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts vote to unionize at a store

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Trader Joe’s employees at a store in Hadley, Mass., voted 45 to 31 to unionize, becoming the first at that company to do so, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The union victory in Western Massachusetts follows a wave of successful labor campaigns this year at prominent employers that have long escaped unionization, such as Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and REI. Union victories can have a ripple effect on employers and industries, encouraging new workers to organize. Petitions for this year’s union elections are set to reach their highest level in a decade as a boiling labor market has given workers more leverage over their employers.

Trader Joe’s employees at the Hadley store cited their declining benefits, pandemic-related health and safety concerns and their pay as the impetus to form an independent union at their store. Some store employees earn $16 an hour. The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $14.25 per hour.

“There’s been a very clear pattern over the past 10 years where Trader Joe has cut our benefits,” said Maeg Yosef, the labor campaign leader who has worked at the Hadley store for 18 years. “We all see this, and it’s really obvious to us that the way to protect each other is through a union contract.”

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s disputed the workers’ claims, adding that the company’s wages, benefits and working conditions remain top-notch.

“Trader Joe’s offers its crew members some of the best salaries, benefits and working conditions in the grocery industry. Despite this, employees at our Hadley, Massachusetts store recently voted to be represented by a union,” said Nakia Rhode, spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s. “We are prepared to immediately enter into discussions with union representatives for the employees of this store to negotiate a contract.”

While Starbucks and Amazon have so far refused to negotiate union contracts with their employees who recently voted to unionize, Rhode says Trader Joe’s is willing to use any current union contract for a multi-state grocery store in the region as model for a contract, including salary, pension, health care and working conditions, for workers at his Hadley store.

Since Hadley workers announced their union campaign in May, Trader Joe workers in Minneapolis and Boulder, Colorado, have filed for union elections. The Minneapolis store will hold its election the second week of August. There are over 530 Trader Joe’s locations nationwide.

Workers at the Hadley store as well as in Minneapolis are unionizing with Trader Joe’s United, an independent union that recently formed, echoing new labor-led labor movements at Starbucks and Amazon.

Trader Joe’s, a national chain that employs 50,000 workers in 42 states, has built a dedicated customer base since its founding in 1967 with reasonable prices, a local touch and a reputation for offering solid wages and benefits to its ” crew members” – who don Hawaiian shirts. But unionized employees at Hadley say that over the past few years the company has steadily cut many of the benefits that have made Trader Joe’s an attractive place to work.

Trader Joe’s has offered a strong retirement plan for many years, paying out 15% of an employee’s earnings for employees age 30 or older. But in the early 2010s, the company lowered its contribution to 10%, and last year it lowered the percentage again to 5% for many employees. The company has since announced that it will no longer specify a fixed contribution.

Trader Joe’s previously said the change was partly a response to comments from workers that they wanted a bonus instead of a pension contribution.

Health care benefits for part-time workers have also taken a hit. The company offered such benefits to part-time workers, but increased the number of weekly hours required to qualify to about 20 to 30 hours per week with the passage of Obamacare.

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told the Huffington Post at the time, “We’ve made some changes to our medical coverage that we believe will benefit all crew members working in our stores.

“I think the company has made changes over the years that have made Trader Joe’s a less pleasant place to work. Public perception hasn’t caught up with that reality,” Yosef, 41, said. I also feel that unions are good for all workers. You don’t have to have the worst working conditions to benefit from a union. Finally, if we can’t take care of ourselves , the company will lose that magic that made it so special.

During parts of the pandemic, Trader Joe’s took extra steps to protect its workforce. It required customers to wear masks, imposed capacity restrictions in stores, allowed workers to take extended leaves with health care benefits and, in some cases, raised wages by up to $4. hour.

But Hadley workers say the company rolled back many of those protections too soon, especially the “thank you” payment, which ended in May 2021. A coronavirus outbreak swept through the Hadley store and 22 workers were got sick in May of this year. , according to covid-19 alerts workers received, but Trader Joe’s had already dropped the mask mandate, per local mandates.

“I think the workers at the store have realized that they will have better working conditions if they have a say. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with covid,” said Jamie Edwards, a 33-year-old crew member who voted for the union. “They realize they can make the workplace better.”

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Trader Joe’s has aggressively opposed efforts to unionize its workforce for years, sidelining pro-union workers to give anti-union talks and sending a memo to managers to use with workers during the pandemic that compared the risks of joining. to a union more like “buying a house” than “toothpaste that you don’t like after all”.

Trader Joe executives have pushed workers aside for a series of mandatory meetings at the Hadley store in recent days to dissuade them from voting for the union. Two workers at the meetings said they were told by regional managers to “vote no” in union elections and mentioned the impact the union campaign had had on store management.

“We’ve always said we welcome a fair vote,” Trader Joe spokeswoman Nakia Rohde told The New York Times in May after the workers launched their campaign in Hadley. “We don’t want to delay the process in any way.”

Edwards, who has worked at the Hadley store for eight years, said a manager fired him at the end of May for wearing a union pin at work. Edwards led a rally for the union on the sidewalk outside Trader Joe’s in Hadley on Saturday, which more than 100 community members showed up to support him. After the rally, the union arranged for customers to deliver flowers to workers inside the store, but security threatened to call the police if they followed, Edwards said.

Less than a week before workers began voting in Hadley, Trader Joe’s announced in an internal memo that it was increasing benefits nationwide. The company said it was increasing Sunday and holiday pay by $10 an hour, as well as the accrued holiday pay rate. He said he would give raises to employees with more seniority in the company to increase pay equity across the company. Extending benefits to workers in the run-up to a union election is a common tactic used by employers to dissuade workers from voting to unionize.

Workers at the Hadley store say they expect fellow Trader Joe employees to be emboldened by their victory.

“I think our win can be replicated,” Yosef said. “Even though we live in different parts of the country, the crew experience is universal. We all face the same issues: salary, benefits, security. I think we all have a lot in common. »

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