Trader Joe’s may have broken the law at a Minnesota shop where workers unionised last year.
According to a new complaint filed with the National Labour Relations Board, management at the grocery chain unlawfully removed union documents from the break room last November and prohibited workers from displaying leaflets about organising.
A regional director of the Labour Inspectorate wrote in the complaint that Trader Joe’s had in this way obstructed, restricted and coerced workers in the exercise of their right to organise.
The complaint was based on a grievance filed by the Trader Joe’s United union, which won an election at the Minneapolis shop last August by a vote of 55 to 5. The complaint, filed last week, states that Labour Department officials investigated the union’s allegations and found them to be valid.
“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 organised four shops since last year. It is part of a wave of union activity that has swept 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 shop where enough employees express interest, but employees have told HuffPost that the company has resisted organising efforts, including in a way the union believes is illegal.
Trader Joe’s United said in a statement that it was “pleased to be making progress on this matter and the countless other unfair labour practice claims we have filed against our employer.”
“This is just the beginning of holding Trader Joe’s accountable for the many instances in which they have violated our rights as workers,” the group said.
The union filed a separate complaint accusing the company of forcing workers in Massachusetts to remove union pins under threat of disciplinary action, and of monitoring and threatening workers.
“They told me I couldn’t wear it on my hat,” an employee who has worked at Trader Joe’s for nearly a decade told HuffPost last year. “Initially, I complied so as not to cause more trouble.
There are limits to when and where workers can distribute union material to colleagues, but in the Minneapolis case Trader Joe’s imposed an “overly broad prohibition” against doing so, according to the regional director. According to the complaint, the store manager had posted a warning on the noticeboard after workers displayed union leaflets in the break room.
“The break room is reserved for company business and may not be used for any other purpose,” it said.
A Trader Joe’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
So far, the union has won separate elections in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Kentucky and California and lost two in New York City, one by just one vote. Workers report that they were encouraged by their supervisors to vote against the union in the run-up to the elections.
Trader Joe’s has contested the union’s victory in Kentucky, alleging that an organizer and a union lawyer intimidated and pressured workers to vote “yes”. However, a labour board hearing officer recently heard both sides and found the company’s claims to be without merit. A final decision has not yet been made.
Other companies have also taken a stand against their workers’ new unions. Amazon spent more than $14 million last year on anti-union consultants who held meetings with workers in several warehouses to discourage them from unionizing. Starbucks, meanwhile, is facing a series of complaints with the labor inspectorate over alleged unlawful firings, shop closures and retaliation against union supporters.