Trader Joe’s workers are upset about new work schedule policy: ‘A veiled threat’

December 6, 2022

Trader Joe’s, a specialty grocery chain with about 500 locations in the United States and 50,000 employees, is rolling out new, unofficial policies at stores nationwide starting in January 2023, according to workers. The policies will mandate that part-time workers work a minimum of three days a week to maintain their employment with the company, reports The Guardian.

A Trader Joe’s worker in the Northeast who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation criticized the changes. The employee learned of the policy in August because he had planned to reduce his workdays to one or two days a week in order to have time to start a small business—but had already seen a co-worker affected by trying to return from a maternity leave to a reduced schedule.

“In October, our captain started having conversations with anyone who was working less than three days a week, to see how we would feel about increasing our hours and days to stay employed,” the worker said. “Most people I talked to were upset about it. They have kids and no one to look after them, have other jobs, [or] are older and happy just working a few hours a week.”

Word of mouth is that management explains the changes as part of an effort to ensure that workers are engaged and knowledgeable on the job—as well as a response to complaints that part-time and full-time workers received the same wage raises.

“It’s an ultimatum. It’s a vaguely veiled threat that they are now trying to spin another way. What are people supposed to say, ‘No I don’t want to work here more hours so fire me?” People with kids, multiple jobs, who are in school, who have debt and are just trying to get by in our current economic crisis?” the worker argued.

“Most people can’t afford to just give up a job when they are faced with a threat like that. I don’t care how nicely a boss asks you, when a ‘choice’ comes from higher up, it is mired in some fear. Most people who are increasing their hours are doing so out of fear of losing their job, not because they truly want to be there.”

He added: “Timing wise, all of this seems to be piggybacking on recent calls to unionize in some north-eastern stores and the closing of the New York alcohol [wine] store.”

Trader Joe’s has been opposing unionization efforts of workers through Trader Joe’s United.

The first store won its union election in July in Hadley, Massachusetts; with a second store winning a union election in Minneapolis, in August. Workers at a third store in Brooklyn, New York, lost their union election in October and the company shut down a wine store in Manhattan shortly after a union campaign was launched there.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) also pulled a union election petition from a store in Boulder, Colorado, after companywide wage and benefit increases undermined support for the union right before an election was to be held.

According to The Guardian, Trader Joe’s United said the part-timer policy was rolling out unofficially, with the two unionized stores not experiencing the policy change because the company cannot implement it without bargaining with the union. The group has expressed concern over the new policy mandating three days a week from crew members across the country.

“It’s a concerning change because this policy will unfairly discriminate against parents, students, older crew for whom Trader Joe’s is a ‘retirement job’, crew with disabilities, veteran crew who have cut back their hours due to work injuries, and other crew members that need to work one or two days a week. Flexibility is one of the draws of the job, and a lot of folks have come to depend on this part-time option,” said Maeg Yosef, a longtime Trader Joe’s worker and union organizer in Hadley, Massachusetts.

She estimated that about 15% of crew members at the unionized stores work one or two days a week.

“As a crew member, it’s hard for me to see why the company would risk pushing out experienced, fully trained employees,” Yosef added.

Trader Joe’s did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Research contact: @guardian