Trader Joe’s Employees Stand by Union Amid Challenges

The Hadley branch of Trader Joe’s, the first Trader Joe’s in the country to unionize, faces a campaign to decertify the union and a National Labor Review Board hearing analyzing unfair practices. Still, many workers remain committed to the cause.

Trader Joe’s Employees Stand by Union Amid Challenges
Customers have demonstrated solidarity with the Trader Joe’s Union movement by wearing union pins and other merchandise when shopping at the store. Photo courtesy of Maeg Yosef

Fewer than two years after it became the first Trader Joe’s in the nation to unionize, a group of staff members are working to decertify the Hadley union.

At the same time, the national union, Trader Joe’s United, continues to fight against Trader Joe’s through a National Labor Relations (NLRB) hearing, where they are accusing the company of unjust labor practices at Hadley and other locations.

Despite the effort to decertify, the contentious hearings, and continued scrutiny in the national press, members of the union say they are still committed to the cause.

Tensions in the store started to grow last November as a group of anti-union workers began to collect signatures, post anti-union posters in the break room, and distribute flyers to customers.

Although they chose not to comment or be interviewed, multiple crew members at the Hadley location openly stated their position against the union and the ongoing NLRB hearing against Trader Joe’s for unfair labor practices.

In order to successfully decertify the union, anti-union employees need at least 30 percent of the staff to sign and file their petition to the NLRB, which has not happened yet.

The union first passed in July 2022. Photo courtesy of Maeg Yosef

At a Jan. 16 NLRB hearing, and as debates regarding the existence of the union continued to unfold in the Hadley store, legal representatives of the union accused Trader Joe’s of unfair labor practices.

Though Trader Joe’s responded by addressing the specific claims of wrongdoing, it also made a broader argument that the entire 1935 National Labor Relations Act should be declared unconstitutional, an argument also leveled by Amazon and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in recent months.

“[Trader Joe’s] is pulling back the veil and showing us their true colors — they’re not a progressive company. They’re not worker-friendly. They’re making it really clear that they don't care about our rights as workers,” said Maeg Yosef, a veteran employee who is the spokeswoman for the union. Yosef has been a part of the NLRB hearings and is in the process of giving testimony against unfair labor practices.

The union was first established in the summer of 2022 due to complaints about Covid protocols and a lack of benefits and care for staff’s physical safety.

“They were really good at Covid precautions the first few months, but once vaccines started becoming regularly available, they took away Covid pay, which was an extra four dollars,” said Eva Katsoulakis, a former Trader Joe’s worker who voted in favor of the union.

“Folks are finding that their wages are not keeping up with the cost of living at all and some veteran crew are making less than new hires,” Yosef said.

Along with safety concerns regarding Covid, other workers said they experienced dangers to their physical safety as “over the last five years [Trader Joe’s] was constantly changing requirements, meaning you had to work more hours to be eligible [for benefits],” Katsoulakis said. “One crew member was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago and the company took away his health care completely because he could not work as he was going through treatment.”

As frustration grew with Trader Joe’s management, a union vote occurred in Hadley in July 2022. The petition for a union passed 45 to 31.

Some pro-union employees accused management of interfering with union organizing during the contentious run-up to the election.

“There was a huge divide between the people who were in favor of the union and people who were absolutely against it,” Katsoulakis said. “Anytime there was a pro-union person, they could get written up or disciplined for the smallest thing, but these outright anti-union people could get away with anything in the store.”

The Trader Joe's defense said that the 1935 National Labor Relations Act should be declared unconstitutional. Photo courtesy of Maeg Yosef

“The first time I’d failed a review in 20 years happened to be after we started organizing,” Yosef said. “We had managers spreading a lot of information, misinformation, saying that we wouldn’t get raises if we unionized between the vote and the contract. We wouldn’t get 401k contributions. None of that is true.”

Katsoulakis shared that her two younger sisters, who also worked at Trader Joe’s, were in a car accident one month before the vote. Despite being on medical leave, “managers would call our house phone or [their phone] and try to talk to them about the union,” Kasoulakis said. “They would ask me, ‘Are [your sisters] gonna be well enough to vote?’ I just thought that was invasive.”

As hearings continue, the Trader Joe’s union and the NLRB continue to fight for their demands to improve their working environment.

“We want to see a living wage for workers. If you look at the living wage, a lot of people aren’t even close at Trader Joe’s, and they’re really struggling. We’d like to see guaranteed retirement benefits again. We’d like to see safety issues addressed,” Yosef said.

Along with Trader Joe’s staff, many customers have demonstrated solidarity with the movement by wearing union pins and other merchandise when shopping at the store.

“We love it when people come in and wear the union button or union tote and say hi. They support the union, and they let management know that they support the union,” Yosef said.