The Potluck

Federal labor regulators say Minneapolis Trader Joe’s illegally removed pro-union literature

By: - June 2, 2023 7:48 am

Union organizers Kitty Lu (left) and Sarah Beth Ryther at the Trader Joe's they work at in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Federal labor regulators filed a complaint alleging managers at a Trader Joe’s store in Minneapolis violated workers’ rights by removing pro-union literature from the employee break room.

The complaint from the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector unions, is the latest of a slew of allegations of unfair labor practices against the grocery chain since workers began unionizing last year.

Workers at the store in downtown Minneapolis were the second to unionize with Trader Joe’s United, following a store in Hadley, Mass. Since then, workers have also unionized at stores in Louisville, Ky. and Oakland, Calif.

According to the complaint, Trader Joe’s supervisor and managers — called “mates” and “captains” in the company’s nautical parlance — removed union literature from the employee break room last fall. Then in November, the Minneapolis store’s manager announced a ban on distributing notices in the break room.

In April, the NLRB said the prohibition on union literature violates workers’ rights to organize free from restraint or coercion. The company has not settled with the NLRB, and a hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for Oct. 24.

Sarah Beth Ryther, a union organizer and crew member at the Minneapolis store, said the removed materials ranged from print-outs from the NLRB explaining workers’ rights to fliers saying Trader Joe’s workers need a living wage not a pizza party.

Ryther says the company has continued removing union materials from the break room even after the NLRB said it was illegal to do so.

“Trader Joe’s is just ignoring the law,” Ryther said.

Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment.

Workers from the four stores unionized with Trader Joe’s United continue to negotiate with the company over a first labor contract covering wages, benefits and working conditions. Ryther says discussions have been halting. Workers want to negotiate a single contract across all four stores and do so with a virtual option. The company wants to treat workers at each store as separate bargaining entities and has refused to bargain with a virtual hybrid option, Ryther said.

Starbucks, which has also confronted a wave of new unionization, has refused to negotiate over video conferencing as well, which the NLRB said it must do.

Trader Joe’s United has filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging the company has bargained in bad faith for not coming to the table when union representatives tried to bargain with a virtual option.

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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.