Trader Joe’s workers at the Essex Crossing store on the Lower East Side announced plans to unionize and filed for a union election on Wednesday.
The Essex Crossing store will be the first Trader Joe’s store in New York City to unionize. Both the Essex Crossing store and a Trader Joe’s store in Oakland, California filed for union elections on the same day.
The workers will join the broader Trader Joe’s United union and said that their decision was motivated by the need for better pay, greater worker safety and more comprehensive training.
The workers took turns Wednesday reading a letter inside the store that listed the reasons why they were unionizing.
Gabriel Medrano, a longtime crew member, was one of the main labor organizers at the Essex Crossing store, which is located on Grand and Clinton streets. Medrano previously worked at the Trader Joe’s in Murray Hill for almost three years, and has now clocked in four years at the Essex Crossing store.
Medrano said the movement at Essex Crossing began bubbling up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The main catalyst was COVID,” Medrano said. “Trader Joe’s was a little reticent at first to implement some safety procedures. We had some heated group meetings with our store manager at the time.”
Some of the main requests coming from Essex Crossing workers include better pay and benefits for crew members as well as better training for both crew members and store managers. The current pay scale is one that benefits new employees, since they earn a similar amount as veteran employees, Medrano said.
“As long as I’ve been with Trader Joe’s, I heard from veteran employees they were disgruntled that new people were coming in and making very close to what they’d been making already with Trader Joe’s for several years,” Medrano said. “As I progressed with the company over time, I noticed I was also having the same issue.”
Medrano said his colleagues want a pay scale that rewards crew members who have worked with the company for an extended period of time.
“I don’t think there’s too much of a standard process, and only a few materials,” Medrano said. “A more standard process across the stores would be much better for newer employees.”
The Essex Crossing store registered 190 employees — 120 had signed and submitted union-authorization cards — with the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency, on Wednesday. By registering with the NLRB, the agency would protect Essex Crossing store employees’ rights and prevent employers’ attempts to conduct unfair labor practices.
The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935, created the NLRB. The bill encourages the “procedure of collective bargaining” and protects “the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”
Medrano said the store’s next step is to get an election date from the NLRB that the Essex Crossing store employees and Trader Joe’s both agree to, which could possibly be scheduled in two to three weeks.
“Winning the election is the next big step,” Medrano said. “From there, starting the early stages of negotiation.”
Trader Joe’s United is currently working toward getting a national contract up for all unionized stores.
The Essex Crossing store will join the larger Trader Joe’s United, an unaffiliated, independent union created by crew members at the Hadley store in Massachusetts last May. The store won their union election shortly after.
“We recognized that there were a lot of issues in our workplace, like our benefits being cut, our wages stagnating, ongoing safety issues in the store that had never really been addressed,” said Maeg Yosef, a Hadley crew member.
Trader Joe’s said that it would not get in the way of its workers looking to unionize under a separate campaign being run by the The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
“Trader Joe’s Crew Members get to decide if they want to be a part of this UFCW-backed effort,” said Nakia Rohde, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, in a statement.
Trader Joe’s has not responded to amNewYork Metro inquiries about Trader Joe United’s demands.
Yosef, who became Trader Joe’s United communications director, is now working with and training crew members at different stores in the midst of unionizing themselves.
“We have heard from hundreds of crew members across the country who are interested in unionizing,” Yosef said. “We’re helping them do so. The Essex Crossing store is just one of the latest stores, so it’s really exiting to have them join us.”