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Trader Joe’s Workers in Williamsburg Join Union Wave

Management fired an organizer hours after telling staff that they'd learned about the union drive.

Trader Joes

Trader Joe’s workers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn are unionizing, joining a growing movement to organize the popular grocery store chain.

Workers at the New York City store, which opened less than a year ago, say they have faced racial discrimination, poor working conditions, and, lately, union busting while working at Trader Joe’s. 

According to a flyer that workers distributed to customers at the Williamsburg store on Sunday, Trader Joe’s managers last week fired a Black union organizer one day after telling staff that they had learned about efforts to unionize their store. 

“This store, Trader Joe’s Williamsburg-548, has a pattern of inappropriately targeting workers of color for discipline,” reads the statement from workers. “We’re asking you to stand with our crew as we work together for the protections and fair working conditions we deserve.”

The workers are unionizing with the independent union Trader Joe’s United and are calling for management to reinstate the fired worker, Jaz.

Jaz, who asked to withhold her last name, told More Perfect Union that she was fired in the middle of her shift on Friday for attendance violations — a decision she thinks is linked to her role as a union organizer and supporter.

“I feel enraged and livid, but I’m also saddened that I don’t get to wake up in the morning and see all the faces I’ve grown accustomed (to) in the past year,” she told More Perfect Union. “I do worry that they might target other organizing folks.”

The Williamsburg workers filed a petition to organize a union on Friday. They say they’re unionizing to win a living wage, better health care access and time off policies, and “clear and fairly applied disciplinary processes.”

“We just want to improve our working lives, be paid a living wage, have benefits such as sick pay…and not have to worry about not making a rent payment or not being able to pay for healthcare,” said Kelly O’Hern, who has worked at the Williamsburg Trader Joe’s since it opened.

Trader Joe’s, headquartered in California, is one of the largest grocery chains in the United States with well over 500 locations. Workers at a store in Hadley, Massachusetts became the first to unionize in July amid frustrations that the company had slashed pay and benefits and neglected safety issues in recent years. A second store in Minneapolis, Minnesota, voted to unionize weeks later.

Workers across the country have since accused the grocery chain of union-busting. In Boulder, Colorado, Trader Joe’s workers attempting to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) pulled their petition the week their union election was scheduled, accusing Trader Joe’s of union-busting and retaliation.

Trader Joe’s also closed its popular New York City wine shop in August, just days before workers there were set to go public with their intentions to unionize with UFCW. The workers there say they believe the company closed the store to avoid negotiating with the union — a claim Trader Joe’s has denied.

“We really feel given everything going on in the wider environment and given everything Trader Joe’s has already done, we need to have the legal protections in place for workers that have filed for a union,” said Trader Joe’s worker Amy Wilson. “We want to start documenting unfair labor practices, because we think they’ve opened the door and we want every tool available to fight back.”

Trader Joe’s workers in Williamsburg say they won’t be deterred and that they are organizing to make their working lives sustainable, safer and more fair.

“Trader Joe’s is a national company and this is a national movement,” Wilson said. “Trader Joe’s likes to say it’s a national chain of neighborhood stores and I think we’re going to be a national chain of local unions.”

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