Trader Joe’s employees join parade of exploited workers voting union
'I’m voting YES for our union. We, the crew, are what keep this company running and profitable. It’s time for us to sit down at the negotiating table as equals with Trader Joe’s and create a contract that protects and takes care of us as workers.' – Maeg, 18 years with TJ’s. | @TraderJoesUnite via Twitter

HADLEY, Mass. (PAI)—From Amazon on Staten Island to REI and Apple in the Big Apple to Starbucks stores from coast to coast and, now, Trader Joe’s, exploited workers keep unionizing, usually on their own.

The latest group to do so was at the Trader Joe’s grocery outlet in Hadley, Mass., whose staffers voted 45-31 for the independent Trader Joe’s Union on July 29, the group reported.

“This is a brand new independent union that was created just months ago and handily won. Truly incredible,” tweeted Dave Jamieson.

They’re not done, either.

Ross Brennan / @TraderJoesUnite via Twitter

Trader Joe’s workers at two more stores, in Boulder, Colo., and Minneapolis, are not far behind. The 80 Twin Cities workers will vote on August 11-12 on unionizing with the Trader Joe’s Union. Boulder workers filed petitions to vote on joining United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. The unit would have 110 workers, Jim Hammons of Local 7 said. No date has been set for that vote, but the company is not trying to stall it, he added.

The one thing all the workers at all these stores have in common is they’re sick and tired of being exploited by bosses, often after being called “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic—and then bosses treat them as “expendable.” That’s what happened at Hadley.

“All of the changes they’ve made have been so they can save money and we take home less,” Hadley worker Maeg Yosef said on a union-posted explanatory video.

Another common characteristic is the workers, almost all in their 20s and 30s, are organizing from the bottom up.

They start on their own and later get covert aid, usually legal advice and representation, from established unions, or go ahead solo. UFCW Local 7 in Boulder is one exception. A joint independent union-Communications Workers combo at Apple’s main retail store in Manhattan is another. At an Apple store in Towson, Md., the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees (CORE) unionized with the Machinists. Their win drew President Joe Biden’s praise.

One of the reasons Trader Joe’s workers in Hadley unionized was how the company treated their co-worker, Woody Hoagland. “I survived cancer in 2019, and part of that journey was having to fight for my health care from the company,” he said in the 6-minute-37-second video posted on the union’s website.

“I know they didn’t want to see me dead from cancer, but they also didn’t want to pay any more than they had to. And as soon as they were able to remove me from their health insurance, they did.”

‘I am voting yes because I want to give my fellow crew members a voice in our workplace. Yes because we have each other’s backs, and support each other.’ –Woody, 14 years with Trader Joe’s. | @TraderJoesUnited via Twitter

“I think most of our customers would be horrified to know that Woody lost his insurance because he got cancer,” colleague Sarah Yosef added on the video.

“The customers right now have the idea that TJ’s is this really, really good place to work because they take good care of us, and that used to be true. I think everything we’re asking for is what Trader Joe’s is ‘pretending’ to give us,” Yosef said.

Added Maeg Yosef: “After we came back from our leave, because we took a leave during the pandemic, it felt like such a different place. You know, it felt like they weren’t even pretending to care anymore.” Morale plunged, she said.

One other bright spot in the Trader Joe’s story at Hadley—besides the win itself—is that management decided not to contest the results, but instead recognize and bargain with the new union.

That’s not the case with most bosses. The implacable resistance from Starbucks and its CEO, Howard Schultz, where workers at more than 200 stores have unionized nationwide, is so bad that Massachusetts baristas staged an August 1 protest in front of the regional National Labor Relations Board offices in Boston.

“Baristas throughout Massachusetts are taking action in response to the national benefits rollout excluding organizing and unionized partners. Whether you’re in Boston, Worcester, or Reading, show up and support your local baristas!” their announcement said.

In May, Starbucks said it would raise baristas’ minimum pay to between $15-$23 hourly, depending on worker tenure and the store’s location, effective August 1. It also added student loan financing and “enhanced in-app tipping,” Schultz told Wall Street in that earnings call. He later promised further increases—except at unionized stores or stores where unions seek NLRB election authorization.

Starbucks said afterwards it could not raise the pay at those stores because that would be changing the terms and conditions of work after an organizing drive is underway.

Starbucks Workers United, a Service Employees sector that is helping the independent unions at the Starbucks stores, promptly filed NLRB labor law-breaking (unfair labor practices) charges against the firm to force it to give raises and benefits to everybody.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.