Workers at a Trader Joe’s store in Hadley, Massachusetts, have voted to organize, forming the first union at the US grocery store chain. Along with recent successful organizing efforts at Amazon and Starbucks, it’s a development that underscores how grassroots, worker-led unions are breathing new energy into the US labor movement.
The independent Trader Joe’s United union announced the victory in a post on Twitter, noting, “despite the company’s best efforts to bust us, our majority has never waned.” A total of 45 employees voted in favor of unionizing, with 31 against.
Why did Trader Joe’s workers unionize?
Workers at the Hadley Trader Joe’s have said they were inspired to unionize in order to improve pay and benefits and address health and safety issues exposed during covid-19. Frontline workers have spoken out over concerns about the company dropping masking requirements for customers in stores as well as the company’s withdrawal of hazard pay three months into the pandemic. The New York Times reported in April 2020 that Trader Joe’s was attempting to curb a burgeoning interest in organizing, with store managers across the country holding staff meetings in which they shared talking points from a corporate memo about the drawbacks of unions.
Then, in early 2022, Trader Joe’s announced it was slashing its 401(k) contributions in half, from 10% to 5%, for workers with less than 10 years of service. “The company seems to be moving away from being a place where you can have a career, support your family and feel relatively secure for a job in the grocery industry,” Hadley store worker Maeg Yosef told HuffPost in May.
A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told Quartz that the company offers pay, benefits, and working conditions that are “among the best in the grocery business.” The company is “prepared to immediately begin discussions with union representatives for the employees at [the Hadley] store to negotiate a contract,” the spokesperson said, adding that it’s “willing to use any current union contract for a multi-state grocery company with stores in the area, selected by the union representatives, as a template to negotiate a new structure for the employees in this store; including pay, retirement, healthcare, and working conditions such as scheduling and job flexibility.”
The growing strength of grassroots unions
The union’s victory at Trader Joe’s adds momentum to the grassroots efforts being spearheaded by Amazon Labor Union and Starbucks Workers United, the latter of which reached the milestone this week of successfully organizing 200 US stores. While small, worker-led unions lack the resources and experience of large national unions, they’ve demonstrated they can appeal to employees on a personal level, which helps them win organizing votes.
A second Trader Joe’s store in Minneapolis, also seeking to organize with Trader Joe’s United, is scheduled for a union election in mid-August. And the United Food and Commercials Union filed this week for an election at a store in Boulder, Colorado.
Trader Joe’s has more than 530 stores in 42 US states.