‘Riding the union wave,’ Minneapolis Trader Joe’s workers win landslide election

Minneapolis Trader Joe’s workers Sarah Beth Ryther and Francisco Lopez embrace after hearing the results of their union election.

Minneapolis is home to the nation’s second unionized Trader Joe’s store, after workers voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of joining together to bargain with the retailer for better wages and safer working conditions.

About a dozen workers on hand Friday, when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted votes in a delivery bay behind the downtown store, celebrated the landslide result – a 55-5 win for the union – with hugs and chocolate chip cookies.

“We are so absolutely excited,” Sarah Beth Ryther, a crew member at the Minneapolis Trader Joe’s, said after the vote count. “This has taken so much time and work and dedication.”

The organizing campaign began in early spring, and workers approached management in June with a petition, signed by a majority of employees, requesting voluntary recognition of their union.

The grocer denied that request, prompting workers to file for an election with the NLRB.

Corporate executives used the six weeks between receiving workers’ petition and balloting to try to undermine support for the union drive. “They were taking employees aside, telling them untrue things about what a union could be in our store,” Ryther said.

It didn’t work, she explained, because workers understood they were the union. “We’d been having conversations with each other since early spring about what we wanted our union to look like.”

Workers in Hadley, Mass., were the first in the 535-store grocery chain to unionize in late July. Both groups elected to join Trader Joe’s United, an independent union that is not affiliated with international unions or federations like the AFL-CIO.

But workers in Minneapolis said they already feel at home in the labor movement, which has seen a recent burst of organizing at nationwide chains like Starbucks and Half Price Books. Trader Joe’s United has active organizing drives at other locations too, including Colorado.

“It feels like we’re riding the new union wave,” Ryther said. “We’re psyched to be the second Trader Joe’s to do this, and if other Trader Joe’s workers want to join us, we’d welcome them with open arms.”

In bargaining a first contract, workers said they intend to push for better wages and benefits, and for more robust safety training and security measures after a string of unsettling incidents in the store earlier this year.

Ryther said when local managers have passed along workers’ safety-related concerns to corporate in the past, they “have fallen on deaf ears.” That will change now that employees have a seat at the table.

The California-based grocery chain has expressed a willingness to engage in bargaining. After workers in Hadley won their election, the corporation released a statement saying it was disappointed but “prepared to immediately begin discussions with union representatives for the employees at this store to negotiate a contract.”

“We are willing to use any current union contract for a multi-state grocery company with stores in the area, selected by the union representatives, as a template to negotiate a new structure for the employees in this store; including pay, retirement, healthcare, and working conditions such as scheduling and job flexibility.”


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