Trader Joe’s in Hadley votes to become the first of its stores in the U.S. to unionize

“I think it’s really become clear to us that the company can’t function without us.”

Trader+Joes+in+Miami%2C+FL.+Phillip+Pessar%2FFlickr.+

Trader Joe’s in Miami, FL. Phillip Pessar/Flickr.

By Alex Genovese, Collegian Staff

Trader Joe’s in Hadley, located just three miles from the University of Massachusetts, has voted to unionize, becoming the first Trader Joe’s to form a union in the United States.

Maeg Yosef, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United, has been an employee at the store for 18 years. She explained how through the COVID-19 pandemic, workers realized their value in the workforce. “We saw a lot of businesses shut down,” Yosef said. “We’ve seen a lot of changes in the labor market. And I think it’s really become clear to us that the company can’t function without us.”

“And so in turn, we feel like we deserve to be able to sit down at the table as equals and negotiate a contract and look out for ourselves,” Yosef continued. The vote to unionize was counted as 45-31 by National Labor Relations Board agents.

Yosef noted that there had been previous attempts to unionize at their store, with the most recent being last January. Workers’ views on safety also shifted amid the pandemic, she said. “A lot of crew members didn’t feel like the company kept up safety protocols as they should have,” Yosef added.

In January, Trader Joe’s employees discovered that their retirement benefits had been slashed. From there, Yosef explained, they began to organize through conversations and connections.

“It’s really just a lot of conversations with your coworkers. You talk about what your concerns are at work, what we could do about it, what changes we might want to see and it just grows from there,” she said.

Additionally, there were allegations filed by union members to the National Labor Relations Board against Trader Joe’s for making “coercive statements.” The Board is an independent agency of the federal government that helps enforce U.S. labor laws in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.

In a statement, Trader Joe’s United explained that while they were “proud” of their work, “winning is just the beginning.”

“There is no Trader Joe’s without the crew,” the statement, posted on Trader Joe’s United’s Twitter page, reads. “We must embrace this challenge head on, together, and negotiate a contract that reflects the values Trader Joe’s has long claimed to espouse.”

Hunter Cohen sees a national significance in this unionization. A senior at UMass studying history with a concentration in Latin American and labor history, Cohen has been working over the summer as a part-time package handler with UPS. Through this position, he has become a dues-paying member of the labor union called Teamster’s Local 170. His participation has gained him opportunities for bonuses, tuition reimbursement and healthcare in the future.

Cohen noted that as the population has become more and more stratified, the working class has had to experience increased income inequality, a higher cost of living and non-competitive wages and compensation. Unions, he explained, serve as a way to give employees the opportunity to earn better wages, conditions and benefits.

“A victory for Hadley bows well for the labor movement across the U.S,” Cohen said.

Cohen also highlighted the “pedigree of radical action” in the Western Massachusetts and Amherst area. He pointed specifically to the 1960s as a time where UMass students were instrumental in creating substantial change, noting their role in advocacy and developing student government.

“One thing students and everyone in the community can do is just come in and let management here know how excited they are to be shopping in a unionized Trader Joe’s and how excited they would be for us to win a contract,” Yosef said.

Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @alex_genovese1.