In August, Trader Joe’s abruptly closed down a wine shop in New York just days before workers were set to unionize. The store was a neighborhood staple and the only Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in the country. We took to the streets to see how workers and customers reacted. Read the full transcript below:
Maura McHugh: Does anybody miss the wine store?
Customer: I miss the store terribly, daily customer, and I think it should come back.
Jonathan Reuning: Did you hear what happened?
Customer: Well, I read this letter and it seems like they must have shut it down so they could open one in a higher end neighborhood.
Jonathan: What would you say if I told you it was because we were unionizing?
[News Clip]: A Trader Joe’s in Union Square abruptly closed just days before its employees were planning to call a union election.
Jonathan: [tasting wine] Ah, it’s so good though… it’s been a while since I’ve had this. The wine store is really interesting; you use all your food and beverage knowledge.
Maura: Which I love, I’m kind of a nerd with that. And we passed on our knowledge to the customers. which they really appreciated. And the fact that it had been there for, what, 15 years.
Rab Bradlea: A group of people who had known each other for a long time, who worked together for a long time.
Anthony Small: And they do go above and beyond. I’m sorry—. [chokes up] I love the people I work with. It would be irresponsible not to stand up for them.
Rab: The union effort at our store began after COVID. Because of Trader Joe’s image. It presents itself as this caring organization, and that was proven not to be true, when our benefits started to be rolled back during the pandemic, when our hours started being cut.
Maura: My colleagues came to me, asking about unionizing and how I felt about it. I was kind of like “Mmm…” And then at that exact same time I noticed they stopped contributing to my 401k. And I looked back at my statements, and it said zero!
Maura: They give and take, at whim, to their benefit.
Rab: A little over a week before the store closed permanently, we decided that we were ready to petition the NLRB to organize a union vote. We needed 16 yes votes, and we had verbal confirmations that 22 people would vote yes.
Jonathan: The day before, we had an impromptu wine tasting. We were all ready to open the next day and sell that wine the next day! And then I get a call the next day. My phone blows up at 6:00 in the morning.
Rab: You look at your cell phone, and it’s blowing up, and you’re like “Oh something terrible has happened”.
Anthony: The morning shift showed up, and couldn’t get in. And there was a thing on the door.
[Rab, Anthony, Jonathan, Maura all read the letter]
“To our valued customers,
Effective Thursday, August 11th, our New York city wine shop in union square will be closed.”
Maura: Overnight? Are you — really? Who does that? That’s not Trader Joe’s. No transparency. No engagement.
Rab: You can see where it used to say wine shop; some 15 years of build up behind it. There are still folks realizing it’s not there.
Rab: There have been a multitude of reasons offered for why the store closed in the way that it did. Initially folks said that the lease was up. They’ve got at least a few years left on that space. The company has said that the Trader Joe’s wine store was not profitable.
Anthony: That’s one of the most profitable shops in the country, with a very loyal customer base.
Jonathan: [on street] Do you miss the wine shop?
Customer: Yes, I do, very much. You should bring it back. You shouldn’t do that to us.
Rab: Nothing adds up. Other than, “we don’t want a chain reaction of other stores unionizing. We don’t want to pay the people who work for us to have a living wage, better benefits, and a voice in the way this company is run.”
Maura: We were five days away from filing! Five days away.
Rab: They can try to make an example out of the wine store, just like Starbucks has tried to make an example of some of the stores they’ve closed. But people are fed up.
Maura: And that is just making me push harder to unionize. So that our voices are heard, and our benefits are decent.
Jonathan: Trader Joe’s, have a little self-confidence. Don’t be so afraid! Let’s talk. [laughs]
A month after the wine shop was abruptly closed, Trader Joe’s workers at another store in NYC announced they were unionizing.