Trader Joe’s Illegally Closed New York Store To Stop Union Organizing, Feds Say

Federal labor officials allege in a new complaint that Trader Joe’s shut down its wine shop in New York City in 2022 in order to blunt a union organizing effort.

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board argues that the grocer’s decision to close the store amounts to unlawful retaliation, and that Trader Joe’s should have to reopen the store and make the affected employees “whole” for any wages they lost.

The Jan. 12 complaint also accuses Trader Joe’s of illegally “interrogating” pro-union workers and threatening to take away benefits if they unionized, according to an NLRB spokesperson.

“Trader Joe’s denied at the time that union efforts played a role in the decision. But workers HuffPost interviewed saw no other logical explanation.”

The group that was organizing at the store, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said in a statement Thursday that the complaint brings workers “closer to getting the justice they deserve.”

“Trader Joe’s shamelessly and illegally engaged in union busting to scare Trader Joe’s workers across the region and stop these workers from having a voice on the job,” the union said.

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

The UFCW filed unfair labor practice charges against Trader Joe’s after the wine store abruptly closed in summer of 2022. The NLRB general counsel’s decision to pursue a complaint against the company means board officials investigated and fount merit in the union’s claim that the closure was retaliatory.

If the general counsel can’t reach a settlement with Trader Joe’s, the case will be tried before an administrative law judge.

Trader Joe’s closed its New York wine shop in the summer of 2022, just as workers were about to go public with a union campaign.

Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

It is against the law for companies to close a store solely because workers there are trying to organize. But even when officials can prove such a closure was retaliatory, as a practical matter it is extremely difficult to compel a company to reopen a store. Such cases often take years to resolve.

Trader Joe’s has denied that unionization efforts played a role in its decision to shutter the wine shop. But workers HuffPost interviewed saw no other explanation.

“They’re hoping this dissuades other workers from doing the same thing we’ve done,” Robert “Rab” Bradlea, then a 5-year Trader Joe’s veteran, said at the time.

“It’s totally to stop the union effort before it can begin,” said another worker, Jonathan Reuning.

At the time, union supporters believed they had 22 “yes” votes among the roughly 30 they believed would be eligible to vote in a union election. They had not yet filed a petition for a vote with the NLRB but were days away from going public with their campaign.

“Trader Joe’s shamelessly and illegally engaged in union busting to scare Trader Joe’s workers across the region.”

– United Food and Commercial Workers union

As employees were informed of the closure, management said an internal human-resources portal that it was “time for us to explore another location” for the wine shop.

Trader Joe’s has faced worker organizing efforts from both the UFCW and a new union, Trader Joe’s United, which has organized four stores since July of 2022.

In addition to the most recent complaint, board officials have also accused the company of punishing pro-union workers, spreading “false and misleading” information about union efforts and illegally firing a union supporter at a store in Massachusetts. Those allegations are currently being litigated.

The company has also tussled with its workers in court.

In July Trader Joe’s sued Trader Joe’s United in federal court, alleging that the union was violating the company’s trademarks through its name and logo. But last week a judge shot down the company’s claims in brutal fashion, dismissing the complaint in its entirety and saying the company’s lawyers nearly deserved to be sanctioned for filing it.

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