Minneapolis Trader Joe’s becomes country’s 2nd unionized store

The vote comes just two weeks after workers unionized the first store in Massachussetts with the upstart Trader Joe’s United union

By: - August 12, 2022 5:11 pm

Trader Joe’s worker and union organizer Sarah Beth Ryther (right) embraces her coworker Michelle Houston after winning an election to unionize on Aug. 12, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Workers at the Trader Joe’s in downtown Minneapolis voted 55-5 to unionize, becoming the second store in the country to do so.

“We are so absolutely excited,” said Sarah Beth Ryther, a union organizer and crew member at the store. “We’re also really excited to get the hard work started of bargaining and making our workplace safer.”

Workers and Trader Joe’s managers clad in the store’s signature Hawaiian shirts gathered at a loading dock behind the store on Friday afternoon to watch an official with the National Labor Relations Board hand count the paper ballots.

After the official tally was read, workers broke out in applause. One worker started crying while another handed out home-baked cookies.

The successful vote is the latest in a wave of union victories at national chains, including Starbucks, R.E.I. and Amazon.

Ryther said the overwhelming support for a union was unsurprising, as she and her coworkers are united for higher wages and benefits, more safety precautions and a greater voice in how the store is run.

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, which has about 530 stores nationwide, said the company recognized the union vote and would begin bargaining on a first labor contract.

“While we are concerned about how this new rigid legal relationship will impact Trader Joe’s culture, we are prepared to immediately begin discussions with their collective bargaining representative to negotiate a contract,” spokesperson Nakia Rohde wrote in an email.

Ahead of the election, workers filed complaints with the NLRB alleging Trader Joe’s tried to influence the outcome by offering significant pay increases to stores that weren’t unionizing. The company said it wasn’t able to offer the pay raises to workers until after the election so as not to appear to be buying votes.

Workers in Minneapolis will be represented by Trader Joe’s United, an upstart union created by workers at a store in Hadley, Mass., who became the first to unionize a Trader Joe’s just two weeks ago.

Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colo., have also filed for a union election but with an established union: the United Food and Commercial Workers. The UFCW represents grocery store workers across the country, including in Minnesota at Kowalski’s, Cub, Lunds & Byerlys and other stores.

Trader Joe’s boasts having industry-leading pay and benefits that rivals even those of its unionized peers, but workers complain the company has made significant cuts in recent years.

Workers also say safety is a major concern at the downtown Minneapolis location. People who are intoxicated or suffering from mental health issues often come in, and Ryther says they’re often at a loss at how to handle the situation beyond calling a manager or the security guard if one is on duty.

Workers believe the union will give them a greater voice in the store’s security protocols as well as help them win deescalation training and technology to improve safety such as a loudspeaker to be able to communicate with everyone in the store during an emergency.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.