Employees have been pulled off the floor for group meetings in which supervisors asked them to reject the new independent union Trader Joe’s United, according to three workers who took part in them. The talks included the store’s top manager, known as the “captain” in company lingo, as well as a pair of regional managers for the company, workers said.
Maeg Yosef, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United, said it was the first time supervisors roped her into what’s commonly called a “captive audience” meeting ahead of a union vote. Speaking on the store’s loading dock, managers focused their discussion on how the union campaign had been hard on supervisors in the store, she said.
“It was like Littler Mendelson tried to make a Lifetime movie,” said Yosef, referring to the union-avoidance law firm. “They were really trying to play to crew members’ feelings of sympathy and pull at our heartstrings. ... The implication is, because it’s been challenging for management and a union could be challenging, we should vote ‘no.’”
Two other workers told HuffPost their meetings included direct appeals to vote against the union. One of them, Skyler Lloyd, told HuffPost the meetings appeared to be happening throughout the day on Sunday, three days before workers begin casting their ballots.
“The store manager (captain) made a personal appeal to the fact that he is new to the store and does not want to have a union present. Then he specifically asked us to vote no,” Lloyd, who is a crew member, said in a text. “This was met with dead air — the meeting was not really a conversation but just a delivery of talking points.”
Lloyd and Yosef said until this week managers had mostly held one-on-one chats with workers regarding the union campaign. It’s common for employers to hold meetings ahead of an election to discourage workers from voting for the union.
A Trader Joe’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
“It was like Littler Mendelson tried to make a Lifetime movie.”
The company does not appear to have spoken out publicly against the union during the campaign, previously telling HuffPost that it welcomed a vote at the Hadley store. “We believe Trader Joe’s is a great place to work and our compensation, benefits and working conditions are among the best in the grocery business,” a spokesperson said last month. “We are ready to hold a vote when they are.”
None of the store’s more than 500 U.S. locations currently has union representation, so a union victory in Hadley would be precedent-setting and could spur organizing efforts elsewhere. Workers at another store in Minnesota have already gone public with a campaign of their own under the Trader Joe’s United banner.
Trader Joe’s United is not affiliated with an established union. Organizers are hoping to replicate what the new Amazon Labor Union pulled off at the online retailer’s JFK warehouse in Staten Island, New York, winning an election as an independent union with little in the way of staff or resources. A handful of workers have been doing the organizing and relying on pro bono work from supportive labor lawyers.
Workers in Hadley, which is north of Springfield, said they are trying to unionize their store in large part because Trader Joe’s has chipped away at its benefits over the years. Crew members learned earlier this year that many of them would be receiving lesser retirement benefits than in the past, with workers with fewer than 10 years with the company seeing their 401(k) contributions from the company slashed in half.
Ahead of the union vote, Trader Joe’s informed employees the company would be improving certain benefits, including offering a $10-per-hour pay premium for working on Sundays. Yosef said she believed the announcement was a reaction to the organizing inside stores and an effort to cool union support.
“The store manager (captain) made a personal appeal to the fact that he is new to the store and does not want to have a union present.”
As HuffPost reported in June, managers were telling workers at the Hadley store to remove union pins from their uniforms or go home for the day. The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the company over those instructions, and labor board officials have not yet determined whether there is merit in the union’s allegations. Yosef said the union plans to file more charges related to the group meetings held this past weekend.
A union needs to obtain signed cards from only 30% of the likely bargaining unit in order to get an election scheduled, but it must secure a majority of votes in order to win the election. Workers in Hadley will be casting their ballots at the store on Wednesday and Thursday this week, with a vote count by the National Labor Relations Board scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
The union effort at Trader Joe’s is part of a wave of organizing going on at traditionally non-union retail companies, including Starbucks, REI and Apple. All of those retailers have seen some of their workers unionize for the first time since late last year. Starbucks baristas have organized 200 stores in a matter of months, eliciting an aggressive counter-campaign from the Seattle-based coffee chain.
Yosef said Trader Joe’s United is confident going into the vote this week. The union held a rally near the Hadley store this weekend that drew about 200 supporters, including a congressman, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), she said. And although they aren’t wearing union pins while their charges are pending at the labor board, Yosef said union supporters recently all wore red Trader Joe’s shirts to work on the same day.
“We were able to collect enough red ones to make a statement,” she said.