Trader Joe’s Violated Worker Rights At Store That Unionized: Feds

A new complaint says the company removed pro-union literature from its store and "interfered" with workers trying to organize.

Trader Joe’s may have run afoul of the law at a store in Minnesota where workers unionized last year.

The grocery chain’s management illegally removed union literature from the break room and forbade workers from posting fliers about organizing last November, according to a new complaint filed at the National Labor Relations Board.

A regional director for the labor board wrote in the filing that, by doing so, Trader Joe’s was “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights” to organize.

The complaint was based on a charge filed by the union, Trader Joe’s United, which won an election at the Minneapolis store held last August, 55 to 5. The complaint filed last week means labor board officials looked into the union’s allegations and found merit in them.

“This is just the beginning of holding?Trader Joe’s accountable for the many instances in which they’ve violated our rights as workers.”

- Trader Joe's United

Trader Joe’s United is a new, independent union that has organized four stores since last year, part of a wave of union activity that has hit Amazon, Starbucks, Apple and other big-name retailers since 2021. None of Trader Joe’s more than 500 locations previously had union representation.

The California-based grocer has said it welcomes a vote at any store where enough employees express interest, but workers have told HuffPost the company has pushed back against the organizing effort, including in ways the union alleges were illegal.

Trader Joe’s United said in a statement that it was “thrilled to be making progress on this and the countless other unfair labor practice charges we’ve filed against our employer.”

“This is just the beginning of holding Trader Joe’s accountable for the many instances in which they’ve violated our rights as workers,” the group said.

The union filed separate charges accusing the company of making workers in Massachusetts remove union pins under threat of discipline, as well as surveilling workers and making threats.

“They told me I wasn’t allowed to wear that on my hat,” one employee who’s worked for Trader Joe’s for almost a decade told HuffPost last year. “Initially, I complied, for the sake of not causing any more trouble.”

Pro-union workers rally outside a Trader Joe's in Manhattan. Trader Joe's United has unionized four stores since last year.
Pro-union workers rally outside a Trader Joe's in Manhattan. Trader Joe's United has unionized four stores since last year.
Spencer Platt via Getty Images

There are limits to when and where workers can distribute union literature to co-workers, but in the Minneapolis case, the regional director says Trader Joe’s implemented an “overly broad prohibition” against it. According to the complaint, the store’s manager placed a warning on the bulletin board after workers had placed union flyers in the break room.

“The breakroom space is reserved for company business, [w]hich is not to be used for any other purpose,” it read.

A Trader Joe’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

So far, the union has prevailed in separate elections in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Kentucky and California, and lost two in New York City, including one by a single vote. Workers say managers have been encouraging them to vote against the union in the run-up to their elections.

Trader Joe’s challenged the union’s win in Kentucky, claiming an organizer and lawyer for the union intimidated employees and pressured them to vote “yes.” But a hearing examiner for the labor board recently heard both sides in the case and found no merit in the company’s claims. A final determination has not yet been made.

Other companies have taken a stance against their workers’ new unions as well. Amazon spent more than $14 million last year on anti-union consultants who held meetings with workers in multiple warehouses to discourage them from organizing. Meanwhile, Starbucks faces scores of labor board complaints for alleged illegal firings, store closures and retaliation against union supporters.

Correction: This story originally said the alleged violations occurred before the union election. According to the complaint, they occurred after the election.

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