Trader Joe’s Workers Unionize In Historic Vote In Massachusetts

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Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts have formed the grocer’s very first union, adding another historic win to a string of recent victories for organized labor.

Employees at the chain’s store in Hadley, north of Springfield, voted 45 to 31 in favor of joining the new group Trader Joe’s United, according to a vote count broadcast online Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board. The agency has not yet certified the results.

The union’s success is all the more noteworthy because Trader Joe’s United is not an established labor group with a paid staff and reliable funding. Workers at the Hadley store created the group earlier this year with an intention to unionize on their own, with some help from labor lawyers assisting them pro bono.

Like the independent effort that organized an Amazon warehouse in New York City earlier this year, the Trader Joe’s campaign is yet another sign that many workers are eager to come together and bargain collectively in previously non-union companies. The labor board has seen a noticeable uptick in union election petitions this year, including in a retail sector not known for unionism.

“The company seems to be moving away from being a place where you can have a career, support your family and feel relatively secure.”

– Maeg Yosef, Trader Joe’s United spokesperson

Maeg Yosef, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United and a worker at the Hadley store, told HuffPost ahead of the election that workers wanted to unionize in part because their benefits had eroded in recent years. Employees learned at the start of this year that the company’s 401(k) contribution would be cut in half for workers with less than a decade of service.

“I think that’s the trend,” Yosef said in May. “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.”

Trader Joe’s could not immediately be reached for comment on the election results. The company has a week to challenge the vote and request a hearing. If it doesn’t do so, the board would certify the tally, and Trader Joe’s United would become the official bargaining representative for workers in the store.

The Hadley employees can expect a very tough fight from the company when it comes to securing a first union contract. Many employers find it in their interest to drag out the process and make unattractive offers in order to send a message to other workers within the company who may consider unionizing. Workers often go years before they reach that first collective bargaining agreement, and some never do.

Trader Joe’s will now be negotiating with its workers’ first union.

Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

But it’s already clear that the organizing within Trader Joe’s is not contained to Massachusetts. Workers at a store in Minneapolis filed for a union election last month, saying they intend to join Trader Joe’s United. And just this week United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, which already represents thousands of grocery workers at other chains, filed a petition for an election at a Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colorado.

Many workers weary from the frustrations of the pandemic appear to be seeking out unions to improve their jobs, taking advantage of a tight labor market that makes it harder for their employers to replace them. Workers at Starbucks have organized more than 200 stores at the coffee chain since December, when the first store unionized in Buffalo, New York.

The NLRB reported earlier this month that election petitions had jumped 58% so far this fiscal year compared with 2021. The number of petitions over the nine-month period appears to be the most since 2016.

Like Starbucks, Amazon, REI and Apple, Trader Joe’s actively opposed the union campaign by workers in Massachusetts. Shortly before the vote, the company informed employees they would see some improvements to benefits, including a $10-per-hour pay premium for working Sundays. And as HuffPost reported Monday, managers at the store were holding group meetings this weekend in which they urged employees to vote against Trader Joe’s United.

Yosef said management told them the union campaign had created a stressful atmosphere for the store’s supervisors, who would not be part of the union. She said the talks seemed designed to “play to crew members’ feelings of sympathy and pull at our heartstrings.”

“It was like Littler Mendelson tried to make a Lifetime movie,” Yosef told HuffPost, referring to the union-avoidance law firm.

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