the giant cuts back benefits after COVID, workers are exposing the
big lie that corporations care for 'crew' over
was a big lie that modern corporations sold to American workers in
the late 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st century:
It was that profit-driven entities could make both employees and
customers happy enough that no interventions like worker unions or
strong federal regulations were needed.
companies like Apple,
perpetrated this lie, obscuring their business practices with a
veneer of progressive ideals and referring to staff with euphemistic
titles like “partners,” “associates,” or
“crew members.” Indeed, many workers employed within this
slice of the American corporate world were often relatively
content—until now. Alongside the recent pro-union activity at
more than 150
across the United States is a newfound awareness among some workers
at the Trader Joe’s grocery chain that a union may also be in
their best interest.
corporations like Starbucks or Amazon where attempts to unionize have
a long history, Trader Joe’s workers have traditionally been
content. In 2003, when tens
of thousands of grocery store workers
in Southern California—home of the original
on strike for better working conditions and pay, Trader Joe’s
workers, who were not unionized, sat out the labor strife.
before the pandemic, Trader Joe’s was considered one of the
best retail workplaces in the US. The employee resource website
gives the grocery chain high
year after year, making Glassdoor’s annual Best Places to Work
list for 2011-2013 and 2017-2022. One Trader Joe’s employee
Business Insider that the part of their job they enjoyed most was
customer interaction: “As long as I make sure the customer is
having a great time, and I’m emphasizing Trader Joe’s
values, I can talk to people about whatever I want.” Workers
also cited good hourly wages, health insurance benefits, and
retirement benefits as reasons to love their employer.
then, in 2022, are workers at a Trader Joe’s store in Hadley,
a newly formed independent union called Trader
And why are their colleagues at a store
looking to do the same?
an employee of the aforementioned Minneapolis Trader Joe’s and
an organizing member of Trader Joe’s United, the reputation
that her employer enjoyed “was once well-deserved.” But,
since the COVID pandemic began, she explains that “there’s
been an erosion of some of the benefits,” and “there’s
been a kind of degradation in the situation in the workplace that has
led some of us to understand and see that the [company’s]
narrative no longer aligns with the truth.”
the company began cutting workers’ benefits years ago. In 2013,
Trader Joe’s stopped
offering health insurance plans
to part-time employees. It did so based on the fact that workers
could potentially obtain plans through the Affordable Care Act,
cynically taking advantage of a government program aimed at helping
stores in 43 states—more
locations than Whole Foods—Trader Joe’s, like many
grocery companies, has thrived during the COVID pandemic, earning
billion in revenue in 2020.
But instead of sharing some of that wealth with workers, the
corporate chain continued slashing benefits.
years ago, the benefits were really good,” says Ryther, adding,
“There was a 15 percent guaranteed retirement match.” But
then in more recent years, she says that coverage was reduced to 10
percent. This past January, workers at the company discovered that
match was further cut by half, to 5 percent.
“As of right now,” says Ryther, “there is no
guaranteed retirement contribution.”
are also a huge issue. “The pay structure is set up so that
some folks who have worked for the company for several years make
less than people who are hired now,” says Ryther.
also takes issue with the fact that there is no job security at her
workplace. “Trader Joe’s is an ‘at-will’
company, which means they can let folks go for no reason or small
reasons.” Union membership can bring contracts that prevent
workers from being fired without cause—a critical protection
for those active in labor organizing.
unsurprisingly, Trader Joe’s reportedly began engaging in
union-busting tactics as soon as it was clear that employees were
agitating for better working conditions. Several workers at the
Hadley store who wore Trader Joe’s United pins said they were
against and sent home before their shifts were over, even though
wearing pro-union insignia is protected by the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB). There was similar retaliation against workers
at a Vermont
store, with one worker even being fired. Employees filed a complaint
to the NLRB and won.
like many young workers around the country who have no direct
experience with unions, says it has been a journey for her and her
colleagues; they have been working since February to educate
themselves “about what unions are, what a union could mean for
Trader Joe’s and for our daily work life.”
the Hadley store’s union election date was set
for late July,
a Trader Joe’s spokesperson named Nakia Rohde sent an email to
“We are happy the dates have been set. Trader Joe’s is a
great place to work, and we look forward to our Crew Members having a
chance to vote on keeping things as they are or being represented by
this SEIU-backed group.”
says she had never even heard of SEIU, the Service
Employees International Union,
a well-established and large union that happens to be a favorite
target of right-wing media.
Indeed, Trader Joe’s United is not affiliated with SEIU or any
existing union. The company’s reference to SEIU was likely a
sly bid to undermine the newly formed independent union.
like many corporations whose progressive façade is crumbling
in the eyes of their young workers, Trader Joe’s may well lose
the battle over unions. One former worker at a Florida store, Noella
Williams, who resigned in protest of numerous concerns, published
a litany of complaints
this past June, adding to the company’s eroding reputation and
confirming the views of many disgruntled workers.
most of her fellow workers, “it’s a no-brainer” to
unionize, says Ryther, who hopes her Minneapolis store colleagues
will soon follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in Hadley,
Massachusetts, with a union election date.
are very, very, excited to be able to vote in this election,”
commentary was produced by Economy
a project of the Independent Media Institute.