Workers at Manhattan Trader Joe’s Allege Grocer Violated Union Rules

Last April, workers at the Trader Joe’s grocery store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side held an election to determine whether to join a union. The organizers lost by a single vote.


Since then, Trader Joe’s United, a union that represents workers at other sites — has filed 15 unfair-labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that management engaged in improper practices before the election and has retaliated against pro-union employees after it.


The union alleges that in the past six months, managers have:

  • Restrained and coerced employees by making unlawful statements that discourage them from unionizing;
  • Promised better working conditions if employees did not join or support a union;
  • Interfered with union activities by discriminatorily enforcing work rules;
  • Retaliated against two pro-union workers by changing their schedules and removing some of their responsibilities; and
  • Removed union posters and fliers from break-room boards and tables.


Bridget Arend, who has been organizing workers at the store for three years, said that while the election loss was “devastating,” the store’s management has “continued to union-bust post election.”


Fredd Moore, another organizer at the store, said that there were almost immediate staffing changes after the vote. 


“As soon as the vote was over, within that first two months, we had six people who were fired, and 18 people in all leave the company,” Moore said, adding that at least four of the six who were fired were vocal pro-union supporters, and that a majority of the workers who left did so after being disillusioned by the failed effort. The store employs around 200 people, according to the union.


Trader Joe’s United, which was voted in to represent workers at four stores across the country in the past year, also wants the NLRB to force management to negotiate, even though the union lost the election in a tie vote. The request came shortly after the agency issued a decision last month, allowing unions to bargain directly with a company if an employer commits unfair practices that would require setting aside the election results.


“The union went in with well over majority support, and it’s clear that we lost votes” because of these unfair practices, said Seth Goldstein, an attorney for Trader Joe’s United, in a statement issued by the union.


Ernest Carter, the current store manager, said he could not comment. John Martinelli, who was store manager during the vote and has left since then, could not be reached for comment. The corporate office for Trader Joe’s did not respond to requests for comment, and its attorneys have also not responded to requests through messages and calls.


The complaints begin with actions that employees say the company took after they voted with a two-thirds majority to hold a union election. The workers allege that the company promised better working conditions if employees did not join the union.


In the weeks before the vote, the manager tried to dissuade workers from joining the union, according to at least five employees.


Harry Gilboa, an organizer, said that managers would use the late-night “huddles,” which were meetings after the last shift, to “fear-monger” about the store and the union. The manager would say that if the union was approved, “they don’t know if the store is going to be able to stay open, the store might close,” Gilboa said.


According to the NLRB, it is illegal for supervisors to threaten employees with adverse consequences for union activity, or retaliate against them for participation in a union.


Arend has also filed a charge against the store’s management for retaliation. According to the charge, Arend was “stripped” of their responsibility to order products for the store, because of their role as an organizer.


Union organizers also allege that management removed pro-union literature from notice boards, also considered illegal by the NLRB. 


“It would literally be this back and forth the whole day, we would put it out there and they’d take it down,” said Gilboa.


Trader Joe’s has faced problems with organizing activity elsewhere. Last July, the NLRB filed a complaint against a store in Hadley, Mass., alleging that managers threatened to freeze wages, among other actions, when workers sought to make it the first Trader Joe’s to unionize.


“Even though we lost in a tie, there’s still still support for a union among, among crew,” said Arend, indicating that the fight to unionize isn’t over yet for these employees. “We’re working towards doing another union election in a year. I think we definitely learned what kind of union busting tactics we’re up against.”

About the author(s)

Nandhini Srinivasan is a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.