W’burg Trader Joe’s employees file for union election

exterior of williamsburg trader joe's store
Crew members at the Williamsburg Trader Joe’s have filed petitions to unionize, which would make it the first unionized store in NYC.
File Photo by Cate Corcoran

Employees at the Trader Joe’s in Williamsburg have filed for a union election, which would make them the first employees at a New York City store to join the grocer’s nascent union movement.

On Sept. 23, 185 base level employees — or “crew” members per the company’s nautical internal lingo — at the Kent Avenue store sent petitions to the National Labor Relations Board indicating they would like to join Trader Joe’s United, an independent union that has successfully organized stores in Massachusetts and Minnesota in recent months.

Crew members in Williamsburg have been passing out flyers to customers at the store to spread the word about the union drive and the conditions they are seeking to ameliorate.

“We’re organizing for our rights and dignity at work by forming a union to fight for an NYC living wage, better access to healthcare and paid time off, clear and fairly applied disciplinary processes, and much more,” the flyer reads. “We’re asking you to stand with our crew as we work together for the protections and fair working conditions we deserve.”

Specifically, the union says that Trader Joe’s fired a Black union organizer named Jaz just one day after management learned of staff’s intent to unionize. They argue that management has a history of unevenly applying discipline, disproportionately punishing workers of color.

“Jaz’s firing was surprising but not shocking to us, because we know of our store’s pattern of applying discipline in ways that reflect our society’s racial bias,” said Amy Wilson, a union organizer and crew member at the store, in a statement. “Jaz is an amazing workplace advocate and is known to our crew and customers as a warm, caring person.”

“This termination, coming as it does in a pattern of what we feel are unfair terminations of our Black coworkers and so close to the filing of our union petition, is demonstrating to our crew why we need the legal protections of union workers to even the playing field at work,” Wilson continued.

If at least 30% of the Kent Avenue employees signed the petitions, the NLRB will conduct a union election. If the majority of those employees vote to unionize, the Board will certify the union.

Workers at Trader Joe’s are only the latest at a national, well-known brand to seek union representation, but they’re not the first to encounter strenuous opposition from management in the Big Apple. Amazon and Starbucks employees have spoken of intense union-busting campaigns by management, from the store-level to the C-suite, as New York-based employees have sought to organize.

Meanwhile, Trader Joe’s closed its popular wine shop at Union Square — the company’s only wine shop in the state — in August after workers there sought to unionize, HuffPost reported. The grocer has claimed that the decision to close the wine shop was made because it’s “time for us to explore another location” to use its sole liquor license in New York State.

An inquiry to Trader Joe’s was not returned by press time.