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Trader Joe's workers in Massachusetts file to create chain's first union

A Trader Joe's in Hadley, Mass., has filed for a union election and would become the first unionized store in the chain if successful.
Jeenah Moon
/
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Trader Joe's in Hadley, Mass., has filed for a union election and would become the first unionized store in the chain if successful.

Workers at a Trader Joe's in western Massachusetts have filed for a union election, following the lead of workers at other companies across the U.S. If the vote is successful, the grocery store in Hadley, Mass., would become the first unionized store in the nationwide chain of more than 500 locations.

The past year has seen a wave of unionizing across industries, including at large companies such as Starbucks, REI and Amazon, as the pandemic worsened working conditions for service workers. Maeg Yosef, a crew member and union organizer at the Hadley store, said the unionizations at Starbucks partly inspired the push for a union at the Trader Joe's location.

"Our benefits and our pay were just less supportive than they had been previously," she said. "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 concerns about health and safety along with changes in health care and retirement benefits motivated the unionization campaign.

According to Yosef, retirement benefits for employees — called "crew members" — have decreased dramatically over the 18 years she has worked at Trader Joe's. When she started, crew members were guaranteed a 15% retirement contribution from the company each year. While Yosef worked at the store, that decreased to a 10% guarantee, until last summer, when the company changed the language in its handbook to state that employees were no longer guaranteed a retirement contribution.

Crew members were also required to work more hours a week to maintain health insurance, from around 20 to 30. Yosef, who is currently recovering from COVID-19, said pandemic restrictions were robust at the beginning of the pandemic but were lifted "as soon as possible," causing concern among employees about health and safety.

Trader Joe's did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The first push for a union at the store happened earlier in the pandemic, Yosef said. It wasn't successful, and in the beginning of this year, she and other crew members began discussing the possibility again.

In May, a majority of workers voiced their support for a union and gave the company 72 hours to voluntarily recognize the organization. That didn't happen, which led to the workers filing for an election with the National Labor Relations Board this week. Rather than joining an existing organization, the filing would create an independent union specifically for Trader Joe's employees.

The union filing is part of a wave of unionization efforts across the nation over the past year, with successes at big-name companies such as Starbucks and Amazon. Union election petitions were up 57% in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year compared to the year before, according to the NLRB.

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