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Trader Joe’s Manager Said Unionizing Workers Were A 'Gang,' NLRB Alleges

Labor prosecutors filed a new complaint Tuesday alleging Trader Joe’s violated employees’ rights at a California store ahead of a union election last year, adding to a growing pile of union-busting charges against the popular grocer. 

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board says a manager at the Oakland store threatened workers by equating their desire for a union with disloyalty, and disparaged those who delivered a union petition as a “gang.”

The manager also allegedly “interrogated” workers about the union, including asking about their social media posts, and “created an impression of surveillance” regarding the organizing effort. Workers were told they could lose hours or have their store closed if they chose to support the union, according to the complaint. 

The manager allegedly disparaged those who delivered a union petition as a “gang.”

The charges assert that two assistant managers also broke the law by questioning workers about the union effort and corralling them into meetings, to force them into hearing management’s “unsolicited views” on collective bargaining.

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

Workers at the Oakland store voted 73-53 in favor of unionizing in April 2023.

The new charges are part of a larger battle between the California-based grocer and the new union Trader Joe’s United, which represents employees at four stores in Massachusetts, Minnesota, California and Kentucky. 

The union has accused Trader Joe’s of illegally threatening workers and retaliating against them for trying to organize. The cases are now with the NLRB, which oversees union elections and investigates unfair labor practices.

National Labor Relations Board officials say a Trader Joe's manager interrogated workers and equated unionizing with disloyalty.
National Labor Relations Board officials say a Trader Joe's manager interrogated workers and equated unionizing with disloyalty. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The decision to pursue a complaint regarding the Oakland store means labor board officials have looked into the union’s claims there and found merit in at least some of them. 

If Trader Joe’s and the general counsel can’t agree to a settlement, a trial will be held before an administrative law judge. The NLRB does not have the power to levy fines for labor law violations, however. If a judge finds Trader Joe’s committed unfair labor practices, it may simply have to read and post a notice acknowledging as much.

Other NLRB complaints allege Trader Joe’s made illegal threats ahead of the vote in Kentucky and unlawfully fired a worker at a store in Massachusetts, which was the first to organize. That worker told HuffPost he believed he was targeted because of his union support.

The company has defended itself from the charges in part by claiming the NLRB itself is unconstitutional. 

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