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Supermarket Chain Store Joins Labour Union Boom Sweeping US

Employees of Trader Joe’s store in Massachusetts vote to form union over pay, benefits and safety concerns.
Supermarket

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Pixabay

Employees at a Trader Joe’s supermarket in Hadley, Massachusetts, USA, are now part of the union boom sweeping American corporate giants like Amazon, Apple and Starbucks despite aggressive opposition by their management.

Employees of the store, located 129 km west of Boston, voted 45-31 to unionise on Thursday, according to the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), becoming the first out of the 500 Trader Joe’s supermarkets across the US with a formal union, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

Since the moment we announced our campaign, a majority of the crew have enthusiastically supported our union, and despite the company’s best efforts to bust us, our majority has never wavered,” Trader Joe’s United said in a statement.

Union supporter and long-time employee Tony Falco told the NYT that the union victory gave him hope. “Ultimately, it will be the beginning stages of us making this a sustainable thing for my life and my co-workers,” he said.

The bid to unionise might not be as fast as at 200 Starbucks stores but workers at a Minneapolis store of the California-based supermarket chain will vote on August 11 and 12 to form a union and employees of a Boulder, Colorado, outlet have filed an election petition with the NLRB, according to the NYT.

In an open letter addressed to company CEO Dan Bane in May, the Hadley store employees had cited concerns about pay, benefits and safety, according to The Guardian.

Trader Joe’s United mentioned several reasons for their decision to unionise, including health care and retirement benefits and health and safety issues.

Union organiser and Trader Joe’s employee Maeg Yosef (18) told The Guardian that a negotiating committee will hammer out a contract with the company.

The company, according to a statement released after the union’s formation, stated that it is ready to begin discussions on pay, benefits and working conditions. “We are willing to use any current union contract for a multistate grocery company with stores in the area, selected by the union representatives, as a template to negotiate a new structure for the employees in this store.”

In an email sent to the NYT, Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Nakia Rohde wrote: “It is a common practice among our leadership team to talk with crew members,” adding that the company offers “generous pay and benefits by retail industry standards”.

Trader Joe’s is a great place to work and our compensation, benefits, flexibility and working conditions are among the best when compared to any retailer. We welcome a fair vote by our crew members,” Rohde wrote in an email sent to The Guardian.

According to some unionised workers, the company undid measures taken during the pandemic like making masks compulsory, limiting the number of customers and increasing pay by $4 more per hour the moment vaccines were widely available last year.

After the local health board lifted a masking mandate in March, many workers at the store got infected with COVID-19.

UNION-BUSTING’ TACTICS

Despite welcoming a fair vote and assuring the employees that it was “not interested in delaying the process [unionising] in any way” when they filed for a union election last month, the company engaged in “classic union-busting” tactics, including hiring a law firm specialising in fighting unions, Yosef alleged.

Subsequently, Bane sent a letter to the employees saying that “the current barrage of union activity” is aimed to “create some sort of wedge in our company through which they can drive discontent”.

The employees alleged that two senior company officials regularly met them one on one and in small groups at the store regularly in the last several weeks suggesting that unionisation could result in less generous benefits or affect their relationship with managers.

Yosef alleged that the store’s manager and one of the senior officials had explicitly asked the workers to vote no at a recent meeting she had attended. The idea that a union would make it harder for workers to collaborate with management was “ironic because we are the union”, she said.

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