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Downtown Trader Joe’s unionization effort falls short


A voting tie by workers at the Trader Joe’s on Manhattan's Lower East Side means employees at the Essex Crossing store will not unionize, the second such organizing setback at a city Trader Joe's location in a few months.

The 76-76 vote this week was chalked off as a loss since a majority of workers must be in support for the unionizing effort to succeed, according to rules by the National Labor Relations Board. 

The Essex Crossing store, which has about 180 employees, became the second of the company’s 14 New York locations to decline to join Trader Joe’s United, the nascent grass-roots union, in the last year. Workers at a Williamsburg location voted 94-66 against unionizing in October. According to workers, that effort fell short after Trader Joe’s publicized the unionization campaign before organizers had the chance to speak with all of their colleagues. The company also fired a key union organizer. 

Another unionizing effort, at a Trader Joe’s wine store on Manhattan’s 14th Street, also failed after the company closed the East Village wine store just days before workers were set to announce their intent to unionize, store workers said at the time.  

On Tuesday, a day before voting began at the Essex Crossing location, two dozen store workers held a rally with allies and other union workers outside the store, with Trader Joe’s employees telling the assembled crowd of about 50 said the unionization effort was a way of pushing the grocery chain closer to its cultivated image as a bastion of enlightenment. 

“Trader Joe’s is a store that has this face of progressivism, but its nice branding does not actually hold up and we are here to hold it accountable and demand what we deserve,” Jordan Pollack, a Trader Joe’s worker told rally attendees. “This is not a progressive company; this is a billion-dollar corporation that doesn’t want to pay us more and would rather spend money on union busting and taking away our rights.” 

Pollack told The Chief that store managers had begun holding mandatory captive-audience meetings with employees replete with anti-union messaging since workers publicized their organizing push last month, when 65 percent of employees in the store signed union authorization cards. Managers also took down pro-union posters found in store break rooms, Pollack said.  

“The company’s massive NYC stores are a challenge and corporate union-busting is a beast, but we will not stop fighting for each other and for the working conditions we deserve,” a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United said in a statement after the vote was finalized. “We won't say that the vote count and results don’t matter. They do. But the reality is, the barriers to working people winning against corporations in this country are huge.” 

The company did not reply to a request for comment after the union vote at the Lower East Side location was finalized. 

‘Compassion for our coworkers’ 

Workers started organizing the Lower East Side Trader Joe’s in spring 2021 around the time that the supermarket chain took away workers’ hazard pay and removed the mask mandate for customers. 

Gabriel Medrano, an employee at the store and one of the original organizers, was confident on Tuesday that his coworkers would successfully vote in favor of unionizing. 

“We've been organizing at this shop for two years and everyone here knows we're doing this because we have compassion for our coworkers, not because I'm a manager who's being paid to be their friend,” Medrano said. 

Pollack said that Trader Joe’s had tried to stop workers from rallying in front of the store because it was so close to the union election. The Trader Joe’s employees were joined at their rally by unionizing workers at Starbucks, Amazon, and REI Co-op, as well as by longtime union members with Teamsters Local 804 and Laborers Local 79. 

“The odds are stacked against us — and those on top will throw a lot of money and time to keep it that way,” the spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United continued. “But every single time a worker — and in this case nearly 200 of us — stand up and courageously and proudly fight back against this reality, the working class makes huge strides.” 

On the same day that the Essex crossing store voted against unionizing, a store in Oakland, California, voted 73-53 to join Trader Joe’s United. The unaffiliated union has organized just three other stores: in Louisville, Kentucky; Hadley, Massachusetts; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.



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