By Blair Gimma
HADLEY — Members of Trader Joe’s United (TJU) walked out on a busy July 4th weekend shift on Saturday in solidarity with a member of the union they claim was unjustly fired last month.
Joining fellow workers and supporters at the bus stop across from the store, TJU’s Hadley members, who became the first of the national chain’s workers to successfully unionize last July, demanded the reinstatement of Stephen Andrade, a Trader Joe’s employee of 18 years and Trader Joe’s United supporter. Andrade was fired because he did not remove a jigsaw from the store’s storage area, despite the fact that he did not purchase or own the power tool.
The workers gathered at the back of the store, walked through the crowded aisles, past the cashier stands and towards the exit doors as one manager raised his arms in confusion and walked towards customer service to make a phone call. As they left the building, supporters and TJU members not on shift welcomed them with cheers as they walked outside. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven workers on shift walked out.
After a march to the bus stop, which is separated from the store by a large grassy median, TJU president Jamie Edwards told the crowd of over 50 people they believed Steve was fired because he was a strong TJU supporter and was opposed to management’s decision to officially diminish the role of the store’s Artist Team, a team responsible for all in-store art and branding.
“The official reason Steve was fired was for forgetting to take a dangerous power tool home,” Edwards told those gathered. “We see through the ‘official story’ and we know his firing was retaliation against someone who was seeking to have a say in their workplace.”
They explained that the store has a history of asking workers to secretly purchase power tools, adding that the store does not provide training with those tools. “So it is especially insulting to terminate someone’s employment for not taking a tool home that was exclusively used by managers after the official word came down to discontinue its use,” Edwards continued. “One of the managers still using the tool is the same manager who signed off on Steve’s termination.”
Between speakers, Edwards and Maeg Yosef, the union’s Communications Director and a fellow Hadley employee, led the crowd in chants like “What’s disgusting? Union Busting!” and “An Injury to One! Is an Injury to All!” Supporters held signs reading, “Reinstate Steve,” “Union is Family,” and “This Jig is Up.”
Andrade was present at the rally and addressed the crowd
“When the original union vote was happening, I voted for the union because two of my fellow crew members, my fellow friends, got kicked off their healthcare insurance while fighting cancer. I knew this is the reason we had to stand together because the company is not standing for us,” Andrade said. “One thing the company has done, maybe accidentally, is by telling us we are a ‘big family,’ …it has kind of made us one. I know that together we can make sure we have the rights that we deserve as the face and heart of Trader Joe’s.”
Another worker, Arthur “Woody” Hoagland, stressed the importance of artists to the success of the Trader Joe’s chain. ”The fact that someone with Steve’s talent and the effect that Steve has had on the store was thrown away so unceremoniously is unacceptable,” he said. “I’m sure there have been other Steves at other stores, walking into a meeting and unexpectedly getting fired, and walking out confused and angry. But what can they do? This. This is what they can do. This is what any of us can do.”
Edwards then led a march toward the store where the crowd marched in a circle single file in front of the store’s doors and windows chanting, “Trader Joe’s you’re no good! Treat your workers like you should.”
The walkout is preceded by a petition presented to management by TJU that was signed by 53 Hadley workers to reinstate Andrade. Since then 8,000 people have signed a petition in support of his reinstatement and over 20,000 letters from the public have been sent to Trader Joe’s corporate in support of Andrade. TJU also filed two unfair labor practices in response to Andrade’s firing and the National Labor Relations Board has begun its investigation.
Trader Joe’s did not respond to an initial request for comment on TJU’s campaign to reinstate Andrade sent prior to this action.
Blair Gimma is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Massachusetts.
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