Erin Or and Tre Scott are two Trader Joes crew members who presented demands to the Capitol Hill locations management.
Erin Or and Tre Scott are two Trader Joe's crew members who presented demands to the Capitol Hill location's management. JK
This morning, a group of twenty or so Trader Joe's Store #130 crew members gathered in front of the grocery chain's Capitol Hill location to present their demands to the public after corporate temporarily shut down the store two weeks ago, allegedly in retaliation for workers' participation in Black Lives Matter protests.

Trader Joe's recently told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog that it is "continuing to pay our crew members for their scheduled shifts." The store is set to reopen on July 1.

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TJ's official line on the temporary closure was that yes, there were not enough workers to run the location, but the closure is related to construction, not protests. This group of workers has called this statement a "smokescreen."

These workers call the decision to reopen the store a "huge win," but that doors simply reopening is "not enough." Workers feel they have not been assured of their job security and that the chain has not done enough to address systemic problems affecting Black and QTPOC crew members.

"There has been a profound disconnect with the company's core values and the day-to-day reality of how our store is run long before that Friday," said Rose, a Trader Joe's crew member. "We think that it's time for the company to do better."

Crew members Erin Or and Tre Scott spoke about their experience as two of seven Black employees at Store 130. Despite being encouraged to take longer breaks for their mental and emotional health in the wake of COVID-19, Or said their breaks were timed. They claim they were then written up by management and faced disciplinary action, even though their white coworkers have not faced similar consequences for the same behavior.

Scott voiced similar concerns, expressing disappointment that while the Capitol Hill neighborhood came together around Black Lives Matter, Trader Joe's pointedly shut their doors.

Or, who has been working at this location since late 2018 and was part of the group who wanted to participate in the BLM march on June 12, told me they were "pretty nervous" to go back to work next month because there's no guarantee that the workers' demands will be met and they already felt targeted by management before they spoke out publicly. But they said they feel "really confident" after receiving support from their fellow crew members.

"I hope [Trader Joe's management and corporate] don't see this as an aggressive or unrealistic kind of thing," they said. "I hope they see it as an opportunity for Trader Joe's to step up. This is something we're giving them the chance to do."

After hearing supportive statements from a representative from Decriminalize Seattle and a worker from the Westlake Whole Foods (who faced similar backlash from management after employees wore Black Lives Matter apparel), the Trader Joe's workers then physically "presented" their demands to management a.k.a. stuffed a manila folder through the sliding doors of the store.

Here are their demands in full:

1. Black lives matter
We call on Trader Joe’s to make a public statement explicitly acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. And we call on the company to back that up with a detailed plan for rooting out anti-Black racism at the store level and at the corporate level. That plan needs to include tangible, specific support for Black crew members and customers. We need more Black, indigenous, people of color, trans, queer and disabled captains and mates. All captains and mates need to undergo mandatory training on implicit bias and undoing institutionalized racism. Store #130 needs to make a meaningful financial contribution to Black-led organizing of the crew’s choosing. We know that the tipping point in the decision to close store #130 was broad crew participation in Black Lives Matter actions. Trader Joe’s needs to apologize to Black crew members and customers for failing to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.

2. No retaliation
ALL Store #130 crew must be given the opportunity to return to work. Crew members who gathered in the wake of the abrupt store closure should face no retaliation for working together to reopen the store and get our jobs back. And we should face no retaliation moving forward as we continue to push for real safety for ourselves and our coworkers. Retaliation could include - but is not limited to - termination, write-ups, denied raises, denied transfers, or assignment to difficult tasks at work.

3. Redefine safety
We see fundamental misalignment between our crew’s felt sense of safety and the company’s definition of safety. Trader Joe’s must reprioritize the safety of people over the safety of property. We propose ending all contracts with private security companies, which focus on theft prevention at the expense of real safety and negatively impact our Black and disabled customers and other customers of color. Instead, Trader Joe’s should contract with a local social service agency to provide mental health intervention and de-escalation as needed. All crew and management need to be trained in de-escalation. Protocols intended to protect crew and customers from COVID-19 need to be put in place proactively and must not be rolled back for the sake of increasing profits. The public has come to understand us as essential, and we expect our employer to treat us with the same respect.

4. Invest in our store and our crew
Instead of looking for a way forward, corporate pulled the plug on Store #130. We want the company to support our store with more experienced and well-trained management. We would like the company to back up their promise to seek crew feedback through regular, accessible and confidential mechanisms. Our crew deserves to be set up for success. Clear and consistent store-wide communication about policy changes, safety protocols, and expectations are necessary for our store to run smoothly and for our crew to feel supported. This includes regular store meetings. We need a direct line of communication to Trader Joe’s HR. The store needs to invest in better support and services, including certified ASL interpreters, to make the workplace accessible for all crew.

5. Expectations and disciplinary process need to be transparent and equitable
Trader Joe’s needs to clearly and consistently communicate expectations of crew members both verbally and in writing. These expectations must be developed and applied with a racial equity lens. We know that Black crew members, other crew members of color, and trans crew members are disproportionately surveilled, hassled, and disciplined by store management. We need consistent documentation of any disciplinary measures, including perspectives from all affected crew members as well as management. We need a transparent and equitable grievance process for workers.

I've reached out to Trader Joe's corporate and will update this post when I hear back. In the meantime, crew members say customers can sign the workers' petition here (which has about 25,000 signatures as of this writing), email corporate to voice support, and, once the store reopens next month, bring in postcards supporting the workers' campaign.

"This fight is not just about getting our jobs back," said Peter Strand, another crew member. "It's about rooting out anti-Blackness in all of our workplaces and institutions."

UPDATE: In an email, a spokesperson from Trader Joe's says the company supports crew members' rights to organize "so much so that in a March letter we promised Crew Members that if there are 30% of Crew Members in any locations who want to have a union vote, we will." She said the company has reached out to the crew members at the Capitol Hill location to say that if there's enough crew support to file a petition for an election, TJ's welcomes a vote.

The spokesperson also said that TJ's has "exceeded CDC and other health recommendations" and has provided additional paid sick time, compensation, and extended leaves, including a $2/hr Thank You Pay to crew members that will continue until at least the end of the year. They reiterated their stand with "Black Crew Members, customers, and communities" and remain committed to "listening, caring, acting, and continuously improving" in regards to racism, discrimination, and harassment.

Here's an update corporate shared with the TJ's crew members yesterday regarding the chain's outreach to the Black community:

1. We’ve established a Sub-group of company leaders and Crew Members to develop actions we can and should take to illustrate our commitment to “listening, caring, acting and continuously improving."

2. We are creating a specific fund of $500,000 to provide educational support for our Black Crew Members. Through this Education Fund, and in addition to our existing college scholarship fund, Black Crew Members can apply for educational support (scholarships) for themselves and members of their families. Similarly, these Crew Members are able to apply for help in paying student debt. This application will be made similarly to the $1 Million college scholarship fund we currently have that all Crew Members can apply for, and awards will be determined by a committee of Crew Members that primarily includes non-management Crew Members. Both of these funds will be replenished annually.

3. We have appointed a product development team to commence activity to have more products in our stores that are produced by Black-owned businesses. Our goal is to have at least 15% of the items presented at our tasting panels come from Black-owned businesses.

4. We have commenced an audit of our Food Shares partners to clarify our understanding of the ultimate recipients of these significant donations. We are committed to being certain our Shares are supporting our Black communities and will adjust our Shares partners to be sure this is happening.

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5. We have posted a job search for a “Manager of Diversity and Inclusion.” We are actively looking for a highly qualified leader to develop programs to improve our hiring, mentoring, training, and development of Black Crew Members at Trader Joe’s. This leader will be a senior member of the HR Department and will serve as the ombudsman for diversity matters at Trader Joe’s. Our goal is to develop more Black leaders at the company.

We are working on a number of significant other projects.

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