Workers at Trader Joe’s Capitol Hill Call for a Boycott As Two More Are Fired For Organizing
October 13th, 2020
Two more workers at Trader Joe’s Capitol Hill were fired on Wednesday, dealing another blow to worker organizing at the location. Since June, a group of employees at the store have been calling on the company to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, tangibly support Black crew members, and stop retaliating against worker organizing. In the wake of these most recent firings, a group of employees at Store #130 are calling for a company-wide boycott until the demands they released in June are met.
On Friday, 10/2, a local Black Lives Matter protest group entered the Capitol Hill Trader Joe’s (store #130) after the company’s recent policy update that bans Crew Members from wearing BLM masks. This uniform policy prohibits any “logos, statements, décor, symbolism, or messages of any kind” on masks at work. This wasn’t announced publicly to all Crew members and only addressed with those in violation of the policy, especially those who were wearing BLM masks. They were told to take off the mask or risk disciplinary action.
Protesters were in the store questioning management about these policies, educating customers and crew, and chanting and dancing peacefully for about an hour. They asked for the store to remove the several prominent pride flags as well as the Pan-African flag that hang at the front. The protesters pointed out that the flags only serve as false symbols while the company stands by a hard “neutral” stance and fails to back up these flags with any meaningful support for these communities. Several Crew Members stayed on the sales floor to help customers and bear witness to the protesters’ interactions with management. Managers attempted to keep workers in the back room and push protesters and customers out of the store.
On Saturday, 10/3, the Crew Members who stayed on the sales floor were pulled aside and asked to write statements about the “incident,” that managers framed as a safety concern. One Crew member, Bennett Powell-Driscoll, quit on the spot. In their resignation letter they wrote, “I am more and more disappointed with Trader Joe’s decisions and communication with Crew Members about new policies. I believe I made my choice, when the new policy banning BLM masks was brought to my attention by protestors instead of leadership...I can no longer proudly call myself a Crew member.”
The other two Crew members were initially suspended pending an “investigation” and then on Wednesday 10/7, they were fired for “insubordination.”
Christina Cobb, one of the Crew members who stayed on the sales floor during the protest and subsequently fired, recalls the incident. “The company’s policies made Crew members feel silenced and uncomfortable, not the protesters. Crew members feared for their jobs if they showed any sign of support for BLM at work.”
With these most recent firings, there have now been five Crew members fired since the store reopened in June. All of the Crew members fired were LGBTQ, BIPOC or disabled and part of the worker-led organizing that prompted the store to re-open earlier this year. Other Crew members have been retaliated against with increased surveillance, cuts to hours, write-ups and other forms of harassment that disproportionately affect BIPOC and trans crew members and have led some to quit due to the toxic environment.
When the store reopened on July 1st, private security was gone, the crew was promised de-escalation training and were told the store would be looking into alternatives to calling the police. However, these promises proved to be empty when management called the cops on a Black trans woman in August who was accused of stealing less than $80 of product, while employees offered to pay for the goods and begged not to have the police involved. That incident was live-streamed by a local activist and sparked backlash from the community.
We, a group of Store #130 employees, wish to restate the demands we released in June. The company has not addressed these demands and has doubled down on many of the same practices we called out in June. We now call for a company-wide boycott of Trader Joe’s. Their continued retaliation against essential workers who risked their health for the company’s profits during a pandemic is cruel. Trader Joe’s insistence on a neutrality stance that silences workers and the community during a civil rights movement demonstrates a complicity in the violence against the Black community and is consistent with the corporation’s pattern of anti-blackness. We want our store to be better, serve the neighborhood more fully, and live up to the values that Trader Joe’s touts. We have tried to do that in a collaborative and cooperative way, but the company has met us with hostility. Now, we are calling on the consumer. Please do not open your wallets to this corporation. Call on them to say Black Lives Matter and meet our demands, and let them know you will be shopping elsewhere until they do.