A little over two weeks ago a new labor campaign, Trader Joe’s United, won an election in Massachusetts to form the first supermarket chain union. But Trader Joe’s independent group of employees has already proven that the victory was no fluke.
The union won its second election 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, Minnesota workers are asking the network to come to the negotiating table for a first contract.
Trader Joe’s has opposed union efforts inside its stores for years, but back-to-back victories could encourage more workers at the chain to bargain collectively. Organizers say they have been listening to Trader Joe’s workers across the country and intend to unionize more of the grocery store’s 500-plus locations.
Sarah Beth Ryther, a Minneapolis store worker involved in the campaign, he told the Huff Post Before the vote, pro-union workers felt increasingly confident that they could take on the company.
“We’re talking to people all day about this move,” Ryther said. “I think it’s just time.”
Trader Joe’s said in a statement after the vote count that while it was “concerned about how this rigid new legal relationship will affect Trader Joe’s culture,” the company was prepared to begin contract negotiations “immediately.”
“Trader Joe’s offers all of its crew members, nationwide, 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 organizing on their own with the help of pro bono attorneys. Minneapolis workers joined Massachusetts workers 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, which recently established the first unions within those companies, reflects a moment of opportunity for the broader labor movement after decades of decline. just around one in 10 American workers belonged to a union these days, compared to one in three in the years after World War II.
Trader Joe’s has one week to contest the Minneapolis election results. The company opted not to do so after the union’s victory in Massachusetts, saying it would immediately start negotiating with Trader Joe’s United and was willing to use other grocery industry contracts as a framework.
The US retail space has been tough for unions to organize, but workers have been making strides in recent months. In addition to Starbucks, workers also created the first unions at REI and Apple. Although unions have had a presence 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 Trader Joe’s United organization, the UFCW has called for an election at the 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 become more stingy 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 many employees cited in their decision to try to unionize.
Shortly before the vote in Massachusetts, Trader Joe’s employees said it would improve certain benefits, including offering premium pay for working on Sundays and holidays. The company did not respond when asked by HuffPost if the new provisions would apply to stores that had unionized or called for an election.
Hannah Nybakken, who works at the Minneapolis store, told HuffPost before the election that she saw the improvements as a clear response to organizing taking place.
“We were a little surprised to see that they were willing to answer a lot of the things that we had been looking at for so long, just by saying ‘joining,'” he said.
This story has been updated with comments from Trader Joe’s.