It was a little more than two weeks ago that an upstart labor campaign, Trader Joe’s United, won an election in Massachusetts to form the grocery chain’s first union. But the independent group of Trader Joe’s employees has already proven that the victory was no fluke.
The union prevailed in its second election on Friday at a store in downtown Minneapolis, where workers voted 55 to 5 in favor of joining Trader Joe’s United. Like their counterparts in Massachusetts, the Minnesota workers are calling on the chain to come to the bargaining table to hammer out a first contract.
Trader Joe’s has opposed union efforts inside its stores for years, but the back-to-back wins could encourage more of the chain’s workers to bargain collectively. Organizers say they’ve been hearing from Trader Joe’s workers around the country and intend to unionize more of the grocer’s 500-plus locations.
Sarah Beth Ryther, a worker at the Minneapolis store involved in the campaign, told HuffPost ahead of the vote that pro-union workers were feeling more and more confident they could take on the company.
“We’re talking to people all day long about this movement,” Ryther said. “I think it’s just time.”
Trader Joe’s said in a statement following the vote count that while it was “concerned about how this new rigid legal relationship will impact Trader Joe’s culture,” the company was prepared to start bargaining a contract “immediately.”
“Trader Joe’s offers all of its Crew Members, across the country, an industry-leading package of pay, benefits, and flexible working conditions,” the company said, using its term for employees. “We are committed to responding quickly when circumstances change to ensure we are doing the right thing to support our Crew.”
Trader Joe’s United is not affiliated with an established labor group. The workers have been doing the organizing on their own with an assist from lawyers helping out pro bono. The workers in Minneapolis linked up with the workers in Massachusetts in May after the latter went public with their campaign.
The group’s success so far ― like that of Starbucks Workers United and the Amazon Labor Union, both of which recently established the first unions inside those companies ― reflects a moment of opportunity for the labor movement at large after decades of decline. Only around one in 10 U.S. workers belongs to a union these days, down from around one in three in the years following World War II.
Trader Joe’s has a week to contest the results of the Minneapolis election. The company chose not to do so after the union’s win in Massachusetts, saying it would promptly start bargaining with Trader Joe’s United and was willing to use other contracts in the grocery industry as a framework.
The U.S. retail space has been difficult for unions to organize, but labor has been making headway in recent months. In addition to Starbucks, workers have created the first unions at REI and Apple as well. Although unions have had a footprint in the grocery industry for decades ― the United Food and Commercial Workers union represents hundreds of thousands of store employees ― Trader Joe’s managed to keep them at bay until recently. In addition to the organizing by Trader Joe’s United, the UFCW has petitioned for an election at Trader Joe’s store in Boulder, Colorado.
Trader Joe’s has long enjoyed a reputation for decent pay and benefits, but many workers have complained that the California-based company has grown stingier in recent years. Management quietly informed workers in January that the 401(k) contribution would be cut in half for workers with less than 10 years of service, a decision that many employees cited in their decision to try to unionize.
Shortly ahead of the vote in Massachusetts, Trader Joe’s told employees it would be improving certain benefits, including offering premium pay for working Sundays and holidays. The company didn’t respond when asked by HuffPost whether the new provisions would apply to stores that had unionized or petitioned to have an election.
Hannah Nybakken, who works at the Minneapolis store, told HuffPost ahead of the election that she viewed the improvements as a clear response to the organizing that’s been going on.
“We were sort of shocked to see they were willing to answer so many of the things we had been looking at for so long, just by us saying ‘union,’” she said.
This story has been updated with comment from Trader Joe’s.