Roughly 200 crew members at a Trader Joe’s in Williamsburg will begin casting ballots on Wednesday morning in a vote that could possibly make their store the company’s first unionized location in New York City.
Voting will occur over two consecutive days and the National Labor Relations Board is expected to tally the ballots Thursday evening.
Organizers declined to be interviewed ahead of the vote, but in a statement released on Twitter, they said they were pushing for higher wages and more dedicated sick leave, among other workplace changes.
“Our pleas for fairness, equality, and safety are continuously met with remarks such as ‘We’re just a grocery store,’” the statement said. “This is our livelihood, and it is time we have a seat at the table making decisions that impact the outcome of our lives.”
Starting pay for Trader Joe’s employees in New York City is listed between $18 and $20, according to several open job postings.
Opting to join a brand new union is a similar route as the one taken by Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island, who formed the Amazon Labor Union earlier this year, which was not affiliated with any pre-established national organization. That group has since attempted to bring other warehouses into the fold, though two subsequent union votes – a second Staten Island location and one in Albany – were unsuccessful.
Also like Amazon, organizing efforts at Trader Joe’s date back several years, and were catapulted to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic when essential grocery store workers had to report to duty amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Trader Joe’s at times responded to workers’ concerns by sometimes firing organizers who expressed concerns about workplace safety.
Records show that Trader Joe's hired two firms used by companies like Apple and Starbucks to thwart union organizing there. The company didn’t respond to multiple requests to comment.
In Williamsburg, one of the main union organizers was suddenly fired a day after management told them they knew they were organizing a drive, according to a statement from Trader Joe’s United.
The company has resorted to more creative tactics as well, like abruptly shutting down its popular 14th Street wine store a week before workers were planning to announce a union drive. The company maintains the shutdown was not related to the organizing efforts.
Local Assemblymember Emily Gallagher voiced her support for the Williamsburg union drive, saying “solidarity is powerful.”