Following a walk-out in July at the Hadley store, Trader Joe’s United members are now alleging that management is retaliating against them, including by falsifying a write-up against TJU National President Jamie Edwards, accusing them of “physically threatening” a manager. The independent union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
On Oct. 6, Edwards told The Shoestring that they approached a store captain asking when he was available to speak about his placing another employee on administrative leave without cause and without going through the union, which is illegal. Edwards alleges that the store captain repeatedly told them they would need to call the office and refused to discuss the matter further.
In an interview, Edwards acknowledged that they were “stern and direct.” But their version of events is different from the incident report the manager filed the next day. After their interaction, Edwards said that they returned to the floor to work for another two hours before the same manager told them to leave the store for being “threatening and aggressive.” During those two hours before dismissal, Edwards said they were allowed to work normally and interact with staff and customers.
The incident report signed by a supervisor, a copy of which The Shoestring has obtained, stated that Edwards “became upset” and “lunged with [their] fist up” in the direction of a store captain’s face, loudly said “DON’T DO THAT” when the manager refused to engage with them and “stormed away.”
Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Tony Falco, another Trader Joe’s employee, arrived at the store two hours after the Oct. 6 incident as Edwards was being asked to leave the premises.
“I was walking into that like, this is weird,” Falco told The Shoestring. “Jamie would not do something like that from my experience, because it wouldn’t serve any purpose and wouldn’t be a positive thing.”
Falco said that it was “odd” to him that it took two hours for managers to ask Edwards to leave.
“If this was really a dangerous circumstance why would you have not immediately asked them to leave and called mall security?” Falco said. “Clearly there was no real danger for anybody because everything was going on as it normally would.”
Edwards was back in the store the next day but told The Shoestring they thought at the time that they were being fired.
“I think the strategy was for them to act as if they’d fired me and then wait for me to not show up to work the next day,” Edwards said.
It was only when Falco asked if they would be coming in the next day that Edwards said they reached out to management and confirmed that they were still scheduled. Upon their return, the store manager in question had gone on vacation while captains from other stores, as well as regional and corporate management, came to fill in in his absence.
“I’ve been with Trader Joe’s for 18 years,” Falco said. “I’ve seen managers go on vacations for a week, two weeks, or between captains when one leaves. And there’s never been a temporary or ‘babysitting’ captain that comes in. I’ve never experienced that ever. So I don’t know why they were doing it this time.”
Edwards said that the store captain returned to work on Tuesday, Oct. 17, and that the time since has been uneventful.
Edwards said they would be surprised if management saw any consequences for the write-up, but noted that even if there were repercussions, “I still have this completely fabricated story on my record.”
This write-up is not Edwards’s first this review season. All three of the employees who spoke to The Shoestring alleged that there has been an uptick in write-ups for accidents that in the past wouldn’t lead to disciplinary action — mix-ups like a mistyped item at the cash register, for example.
“You’re using a computer,” Falco said. “You’re expected to go as fast as possible because you’ve got lines of people. And you’re going to mistype something. You’re going to hit the wrong quantity of an item every now and again. I can’t imagine that that’s a new thing, but it seems like people are getting write-ups for this situation now. It strikes me as extreme, looking for anything wrong to write up.”
Higher-ups wrote up Edwards for a mischarged item during their last review cycle despite correcting the mistake before their customer left the store. They now have two counts of “not exceeding expectations” on their record which they say will prevent them from receiving a raise this review period as well as potentially providing a basis for future termination.
Edwards, who is black, also wondered if aspects of the Oct. 6 write-up could be attributable to racism. They cited research about black men being viewed as larger and more threatening than a white person of the same size. Edwards also pointed to the store captain’s choice of clothing, which they allege has included the “thin blue line” and images of the comic-book character Punisher, symbols have been adopted by the far-right.
“I’m non-binary, but I’m generally read as male by the people around me,” Edwards said. “And out of this past year or so of anti-union behavior, this is the first time that the lie that they’ve made up had something to do with somebody being physically threatening and aggressive, you know what I mean?”
Edwards and TJU have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board regarding the incident, as well as on behalf of the worker who management placed on leave — the incident Edwards originally wanted to talk to the manager about. However, it could take a while for the NLRB to take action.
“Our hearings have been pushed back,” Edwards said. “So I’m hoping that some of this stuff will make it into the batch of charges that will get to the hearing so it can get dealt with more quickly. Some of these are charges from before the election even happened, so it’s a lot that we’re waiting on.”
In addition to write-ups, some Hadley workers have also had difficulty transferring to other stores, a perk that Trader Joe’s has historically made much more available to workers than other grocery chains. One worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is looking for new employment, is currently commuting nearly two hours each way to work at the Hadley store on weekends after moving home to Attleboro.
After interactions with the same store captain who wrote up Edwards and captains from other stores, that worker strongly believes he has been denied transfer because of his union membership.
“They’ll go after anyone who’s pro-union basically,” the worker told The Shoestring. “I don’t know what the deal is or if they’re getting bonuses or something but our managers are seriously union busting, it’s ridiculous.”
R. Nicholas is a former editor and labor reporter for The Shoestring, covering union drives and the local service industry.
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