Trader Joe-stle

Trader Joe’s United’s first loss is further proof that unionizing isn’t easy

It’s going to be a tough fight ahead for union hopefuls bogged down by retaliation from management.
Opening the door to more workers' rights.
Opening the door to more workers' rights.
Photo: Michael Nagle (Getty Images)
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Three months into its unionizing efforts, Trader Joe’s United has lost its winning streak.

At a Trader Joe’s store in Brooklyn, workers on Oct. 28 voted 94 to 66 against joining the independent union, which represents employees at two other stores in Massachusetts and in Minnesota.

The grocery store’s staff have been voting to unionize for similar reasons as their counterparts at Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple: better pay, better benefits, and better health and safety measures. The advocacy became the need of the hour especially after Trader Joe’s decided to slash 401(k) contributions in half, from 10% to 5%, for workers with less than 10 years of service.

A brief timeline of Trader Joe’s United

July 28, 2022: In Hadley, Massachusetts, workers vote 45-31 in favor of unionizing, marking Trader Joe’s United’s first victory

Aug. 12, 2022: A Minneapolis Trader Joe’s becomes the second outlet to unionize

Aug. 22 2022: In Boulder, Colorado, workers withdrew their petition to unionize amid alleged coercion and intimidation by the company

Oct. 28 2022: Trader Joe’s United faces its first defeat, losing the bid to unionize in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Quotable: Why unionizing is hard

“The general sense is the delays that employers are able to do, the fact that they can—at least implicitly—intimidate workers trying to organize and even fire such workers, has hindered U.S. employees in exercising their right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. And the penalties for such unfair and illegal labor practices are often modest and can sometimes be imposed only many years later (e.g., some back pay may be owed once the union drive has been defeated)” —Harvard labor economist Lawrence Katz

Is the US union movement losing momentum?

Two wins and one loss are a drop in the Trader Joe’s ocean. The grocery chain has 500 stores with 50,000 workers. But here’s what the vote’s outcome does say: It’s going to be a tough fight ahead for union hopefuls bogged down by retaliation from management.

☕ Starbucks has seen the best momentum with over 250 stores unionizing, representing 6,500 workers, since the first win in December 2021. However, these outlets account for a small portion of the 9,000 company-run stores and the pace of unionization at the coffee chain is slowing. Of the 250 stores, only three had their bargaining sessions as of Oct. 20, organizing outfit Starbucks Workers United said, alleging that Starbucks is delaying negotiations. To deter further unionizing, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz also announced pay raises and benefits including faster sick time accrual, more training opportunities, and credit card tipping for non-union employees. Workers have reported being fired for unionizing.

📦 Amazon Labor Union, which tasted a loss just three elections in, has blamed the e-commerce behemoth of spreading anti-union propaganda and penalizing workers attempting to organize.

📱 Multiple unions trying to represent Apple have received mixed bag reactions. Meanwhile, the iPhone maker appears to be aping Starbucks in withholding benefits from union employees and following in Amazon’s union-busting footsteps. Apple even hired the same anti-union lawyers as Starbucks.

🛒 At the Trader Joe’s Brooklyn store, suppression tactics were afoot, according to a New York Times report. The management apparently announced the vote in a note in the store’s break room in late September, and fired a prominent union supporter a day or two later. The moves “undermined trust” and unionizing became harder, according to Amy Wilson, a campaign leader.

Related stories

🏛 Trader Joe’s workers start push to unionize

 🛑 Why even progressive companies like REI are wary of unions

⚔️ Are unions responsible for the decline of unions?