Oakland Trader Joe’s store becomes first to unionize in California

A Trader Joe's store on College Avenue in Oakland is the first location in California to file for a union election
A Trader Joe’s store on College Avenue in Oakland is the first location in California to unionize.
(Jeff Bercovici / Los Angeles Times)

Workers at the Trader Joe’s store in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood voted to unionize, but the national organizing effort suffered a setback.

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The campaign to unionize Trader Joe’s workers has officially claimed a victory in the company’s home state. An Oakland store on Thursday became the first Trader Joe’s in California to unionize.

Workers at the store, located in the Rockridge neighborhood on College Avenue, voted 73-53 in favor of joining the independent union Trader Joe’s United in an election tallied by the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday evening.

One additional vote was challenged and won’t be counted since it won’t affect the election outcome, said NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado.

“If no objections are filed, the result will be certified and the employer will need to begin bargaining in good faith with the Oakland employees,” Blado said in an email.

Parties have five business days to file objections, she said.

The win for the union in Oakland comes packaged with a loss: Also on Thursday, a bid to unionize a Manhattan Trader Joe’s store narrowly failed when the vote by workers resulted in a 76-76 tie. (A majority vote is needed for Trader Joe’s United to represent a store.)

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Trader Joe’s has been criticized for its response to worker organizing. Workers have accused the company of following the lead of Starbucks, which has cultivated a progressive, worker-friendly image, but has aggressively cracked down on union organizing and stalled in bargaining a contract with newly unionized workers.

On March 1, an administrative law judge with the NLRB found Trader Joe’s had unlawfully disciplined, suspended and fired a worker at a store in Houston who raised concerns about workplace policies. The judge directed the company to reinstate the worker and award back pay.

There are 56 open unfair labor practice cases involving Trader Joe’s lodged with the federal labor board, most of which remain in the early stages of the process.

Trader Joe’s spokespeople Nicole High and Matt Sloan did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The first nautical-themed Trader Joe’s market opened in South Pasadena in 1967. The company operates hundreds of stores across the U.S. Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe sold in 1979 to the German supermarket chain Aldi.

The Oakland store is the third Trader Joe’s to unionize.

Six Trader Joe’s locations total have held union elections, with workers at stores in Hadley, Massachusetts, and Minneapolis also voting to certify Trader Joe’s United as their representative.

The upstart union sustained its first loss in October, when workers at a Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn rejected the union in their vote.

A January vote at a store in Louisville, Kentucky — a victory for the union — has not been certified, with the company filing an objection to election results.

Longtime Trader Joe’s employee Dominique Bernardo, who has worked at the Oakland store for more than 18 years, led the union push.

“This union campaign ... has not only been the most fun I’ve had at my workplace in years, it has also been the most meaningful and connective for many of us,” Bernardo said in an emailed statement. “I am incredibly proud to be part of this courageous crew.

Bernardo and other workers said in interviews last month that they sought a union because they felt company leadership has chipped away at worker benefits and morale, skipping raises and slashing hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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