Workers at a Trader Joe’s location in Louisville, Kentucky, have launched a bid to join Trader Joe’s United, putting the store on a path toward potentially becoming the third location in the grocery chain to be represented by a labor union.
The employees have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a vote on whether to formally organize and believe they have sufficient support to move forward with an election, according to a Tuesday email from the young labor organization.
If the campaign is successful, the Louisville workers would follow in the footsteps of Trader Joe’s associates at stores in Hadley, Massachusetts, and Minneapolis, who voted earlier this year to become part of Trader Joe’s United. Employees at a Trader Joe’s store in Brooklyn, New York, voted in October not to join Trader Joe’s United, tempering the group’s momentum.
Trader Joe’s associates in Louisville are motivated to formally organize by a sense that top managers at Trader Joe’s do not understand what the company’s frontline workers want and need as they carry out their jobs, said Connor Hovey, a worker at the store who is helping to lead the unionization effort.
“I think it’s hard for higher-ups in a company to really empathize with people when they're not on the ground working with those people,” Hovey said in an interview. “And that opens the door for them to make decisions that don't directly affect them, but affect the tens of thousands of other crew members that work for the company. So I think by nature there is a disconnect. But with a union contract, we're looking to close that disconnect.”
Hovey added that the workers want to strengthen the ability of local managers to make decisions regarding operations at individual Trader Joe’s stores without interference from executives at the company, which is based in Monrovia, California.
The workers seeking to unionize workers at the Louisville store, located at 4600 Shelbyville Road, also agree with concerns about issues like compensation and safety that Trader Joe’s United has laid out as it has sought to organize Trader Joe’s workers, according to Hovey. The chain has subjected employees to an opaque and inconsistent performance review process, reduced retirement benefits, put safety at risk and failed to provide workers with sufficient time off, according to the union.
“We really appreciate all the work that they’ve done, the grassroots campaigns that they’ve accomplished,” Hovey said. “We have been welcomed with open arms like one big family already, and we want to contribute to that.”
In November, Trader Joe’s United said its efforts to hammer out labor agreements for workers at the Hadley and Minneapolis stores had gotten off to a rocky start, in part because the grocer would not allow workers paid time off to negotiate with the company. The union also said it had filed unfair labor practice charges against the grocer with the NLRB because Trader Joe’s had refused to bargain in “good faith.”
Sid Lewis, an attorney at Jones Walker LLP in New Orleans who helps retailers navigate labor laws, said he thinks it will be difficult for Trader Joe’s United to win better conditions for the workers it represents than the grocer currently provides to non-unionized employees.
“I’d just be shocked if the … union stores end up with a contract where all the other non-union stores look at it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, look what they've got.’ I just don't think that's going to happen,” said Lewis.
Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting to this story.