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Trader Joe’s Workers at a Massachusetts Store Form a Union

Following a recent trend of service workers organizing at companies like Starbucks, Apple and Amazon, employees at a Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Mass., voted to unionize on Thursday. It is the only one of the company’s more than 500 stores with a formal union.

The vote was 45 to 31, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election.

“Since the moment we announced our campaign, a majority of the crew have enthusiastically supported our union, and despite the company’s best efforts to bust us, our majority has never wavered,” the union, known as Trader Joe’s United, said in a statement.

It is unclear whether the union campaign will spread rapidly to other Trader Joe’s stores, as has the campaign at Starbucks, where more than 200 company-owned locations have voted to unionize since December. But the supermarket chain will face at least one more union vote soon — at a Minneapolis store next month — and workers at a store in Colorado filed an election petition this week.

The company said in a statement that it was prepared to begin discussions immediately. Implying that its pay, benefits and working conditions were already better than those unionized grocery workers typically receive, it added, “We are willing to use any current union contract for a multistate grocery company with stores in the area, selected by the union representatives, as a template to negotiate a new structure for the employees in this store.”

The store is about 20 miles north of Springfield in Western Massachusetts, an area known for a number of small colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Supporters of the Trader Joe’s union, which is not affiliated with an established labor organization, cited a variety of reasons for their decision to organize, including health care and retirement benefits that had become less generous over the past several years, and health and safety issues.

Some said that while they had been encouraged by the company’s initial response to the pandemic — which included enforcing masking requirements, limiting the number of customers in the store and providing a temporary pay increase as high as $4 more per hour — they felt that the company undid these measures too quickly when vaccines became widely available last year.

Many workers at the store became ill with Covid-19 this spring as mask wearing declined. The local health board had lifted a masking mandate in March.

When workers filed for a union election last month, the company said that it welcomed a fair vote and that it was “not interested in delaying the process in any way.” But the company has tended to resist efforts to unionize, including some attempts at the outset of the pandemic.

At the time, the company’s chief executive, Dan Bane, circulated a letter to employees citing “the current barrage of union activity that has been directed at Trader Joe’s” and arguing that union advocates “clearly believe that now is a moment when they can create some sort of wedge in our company through which they can drive discontent.”

Workers said two senior company officials had been in the store regularly over the past several weeks — meeting with employees both one on one and in small groups — and had suggested that workers could receive less generous benefits or have a less collaborative relationship with managers if they unionized.

Nakia Rohde, a Trader Joe’s spokeswoman, said by email, “It is a common practice among our leadership team to talk with crew members,” as the company calls employees.

Maeg Yosef, a longtime employee and a leader of the union campaign, said that in a recent meeting she attended, the store’s manager and one of the senior officials had explicitly asked workers to vote no.

Ms. Yosef said the idea that a union would make it harder for workers to collaborate with management was “ironic because we are the union.” As the union will be run entirely by store workers, there is no outside labor organization that could insert itself between the two sides.

Ms. Yosef and other workers began to discuss organizing last winter amid what they say was frustration that the company had failed to make them aware of a state law mandating paid time off for Covid-related absences. (Ms. Rohde, the spokeswoman, said she disputed the account without specifying which part she disagreed with.)

Tony Falco, a union supporter and longtime employee, said that he and his co-workers expected to have to fight for a contract but that the union victory gave him hope. “Ultimately, it will be the beginning stages of us making this a sustainable thing for my life and my co-workers,” Mr. Falco said.

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