Oakland Trader Joe's To Hold Historic Union Vote After Rat Infestation

Unionization has been a rapidly growing phenomenon in food service and now, it has spread to California as an Oakland Trader Joe's is set to hold a historic union vote. The drive to unionize stores in both the fast food and grocery industry really took off in 2022, with a number of successful votes in companies that have traditionally been hostile to workers organizing. The effort that has gotten the most publicity is undoubtedly Starbucks, which has seen hundreds of stores unionize over the past few years even as the company has been hit again and again with accusations of illegal union busting. But they were only the first self-styled progressive company to feel the brunt of their workers' dissatisfaction.

Trader Joe's has long cultivated a reputation as one of the better places to work in retail, with a flexible, laid-back environment meant to attract top talent. The generosity of companies can be a fickle thing, however, and a growing sense from workers that their benefits, pay, and working conditions are inadequate has led Trader Joe's employees to join the growing list of those demanding unionization. A store in Hadley, Massachusetts became the first to successfully unionize last year, but unlike at Starbucks, union efforts have been slower to take hold. Now, a location in Oakland is looking capture some momentum and score a big win for Trader Joe's employees and grocery workers everywhere.

Workers at Trader Joe's in Oakland file petition for union election

The union drive in Oakland has been driven by accusations of poor working conditions and alleged mistreatment of employees during the pandemic. According to the Los Angeles Times, workers at the Trader Joe's on College Avenue say a rat infestation was left to linger for almost two years after crew members first reported it to management. This came on the heels of cutbacks to raises and benefits, and difficult conditions during the pandemic that led some employees to believe the company was sacrificing workers' safety for profits. Some employees have also reportedly been questioned or disciplined for political activities they took part in outside of work. All of this has culminated in workers delivering a letter to store management this week, announcing their intent to unionize.

The action in Oakland is happening at the same time another store in New York is dealing with union organizing and similar concerns from workers. Gothamist reports that a Trader Joe's in New York's Lower East Side is filing for a union election this week, not long after a sewage leak raised health concerns from employees who say the problem has still not been adequately dealt with. 

The success of these votes is far from guaranteed, as a recent "no" vote at a Brooklyn location shows. But, if employees secure a victory, it could be the beginning of the same snowball effect we've seen at Starbucks.