Famously Cheerful Trader Joe’s Workers Are Actually Unhappy and Want a Union

The grocery workers are the latest to join the revitalized labor movement, along with workers at Amazon, Starbucks, and Target.
People stand in line outside Trader Joe's in Kips Bay amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2021 in New York City. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)
People stand in line outside Trader Joe's in Kips Bay amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2021 in New York City. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Employees at a Trader Joe’s store in western Massachusetts are attempting to form the grocery chain’s first union, they told their CEO in a letter this weekend.

Though it’s just the latest high-profile union effort, the roots of the campaign at Trader Joe’s—and the company’s opposition to its employees forming a union—go back more than two years, as workers said in the letter. 

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In their letter to Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane, workers at the Hadley, Massachusetts, store referenced a March 2020 letter Bane wrote to employees calling then-nascent unionization efforts a “distraction” and that unions “drive discontent” at companies. In the letter, Bane wrote he was “convinced that any Crew Member who critically considers the question will conclude that being a Crew Member at Trader Joe's beats being a ‘member’ of a union.” (Unionized employees would be both.)

At the time, Trader Joe’s workers across the country were speaking to media outlets and alleging the company was not doing enough to keep workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But although representatives from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) spoke with employees in 2020, the New York Times reported at the time, no store ever filed for an election. 

Until now. 

“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,” the workers wrote to Bane. The workers said they “organized ourselves,” using “the same instinctive teamwork we use every day to break pallets, work the load, bag groceries, and care for our customers.”

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Workers at the store are organizing under the banner of Trader Joe’s United, an independent union.

“If nothing else, we know how to work hard,” the workers wrote. “We understand teamwork and how to get things done. This union will be no exception.”

The announcement comes during a period of resurgence for the labor movement led by workers at Starbucks and Amazon. During the first half of the 2022 fiscal year, union filing petitions increased by 57%, according to the National Labor Relations Board.  

Less than six months after the first Starbucks store, in Bufifalo, voted to unionize, 70 more Starbucks stores have voted to unionize, even as the company has stepped up its anti-union efforts following the return of Howard Schultz as CEO. And in March, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted to unionize with the independent Amazon Labor Union, becoming the company’s first unionized warehouse in the U.S. 

Workers at Apple retail locations in three states have also filed for union elections, and last week, workers at a Target store in Virginia filed for a union election seeking representation with the Industrial Workers of the World.

Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The chain, which was founded in California in the 1960s, had more than 530 locations nationwide and drew in more than $16 billion in revenue as of 2020, according to Supermarket News

“I feel like a company that I love so much has strayed so far from their core values, and they are bleeding veteran crew members,” Sarah Yosef, who has worked for Trader Joe’s for nearly two decades, told the labor outlet More Perfect Union this weekend. “I would like to help bring us back.”

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