Trader Joe’s store in Western Mass files for union election, citing cuts in pay and benefits

As of Wednesday, June 8, the first Trader Joe’s supermarket store in the US has officially filed for a union election, following in the footsteps of other workers at companies such as McDonald’s, Amazon, Starbucks and REI.

If the workers at this Hadley, Massachusetts store are successful, it would become the first unionized store in the nationwide chain out of more than 500 locations.

As the pandemic led to worsened conditions for services workers, and minimum wage continues to be disproportionate to the ever-changing cost of living, the past year has seen a massive wave of unionizing across industries.

Employee and union organizer Maeg Yosef told NPR that the wave of Starbucks unionizations across the country partly inspired the push for a union at the Trader Joe’s store in western Massachusetts.

“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,” Yosef said.

Yosef also said that health and safety concerns were a motivating factor, along with changes to healthcare and retirement benefits.

The first push for a union at the store began earlier in the pandemic, but it wasn’t advancing, so at the beginning of this year, Yosef and other crew members brought up the possibility again.

Last month, a majority of employees voiced their support for a union and gave the company 3 days to voluntarily recognize the organization. When that didn’t happen, the workers filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Instead of joining an existing organization, the filing would create an independent union specifically for employees of the national supermarket chain.

Nakia Rohde, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, told Huffington Post earlier this week that the company welcomes a union vote and would not stand in the way of this process.

“We believe Trader Joe’s is a great place to work and our compensation, benefits and working conditions are among the best in the grocery business. We welcome a fair vote and are prepared to hold a vote if more than 30% of the Crew wants one,” Rohde said.

In the past, however, the company has brushed off unionization efforts. In 2020, CEO Dan Bane called a union organizing campaign a “distraction,” and said that a union would not be able to improve upon what Trader Joe’s already offers its workers.

Yosef, who has worked at the store for 18 years, said that many fellow crew members have changed their perception of their workplace in recent years.

The chain has long been seen as a decent place to work with good benefits, but in the past few years, the company has made some moves that have frustrated and angered longtime employees.

Ash HuffPost recently reported, Trader Joe’s made a dramatic shift this year, slashing retirement benefits in half for many workers, reducing the company’s 401(k) contribution from 10% of wages earned in a year down to 5%.

By choosing not to affiliate itself with a known labor group, Trader Joe’s United is following a similar path to the Amazon Labor Union, which shockingly unionized the first warehouse in the US

Going down this route has its pros and cons. Independent unions usually don’t possess the experience and resources of other well-funded labor campaigns, but they are less likely to be painted as a “third party” by management, as everyone involved in the union is also a worker.

Yosef said that Jon Basalone, the chain’s president of stores, recently visited the Hadley location. The company claimed that the visit was standard practice, but Yosef said she believes it is correlated to their union effort.

“If they’re coming out here and sending Jon Basalone already, I think it just means that they’re that scared,” Yosef told HuffPost

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