Trader Joe’s Illegally Fired Union Supporter, Labor Prosecutors Say

Prosecutors at the National Labor Relations Board say Trader Joe’s illegally fired a union supporter in Massachusetts because he was pushing for better working conditions.

In a complaint filed Tuesday, officials argued that the company should be forced to offer reinstatement and back pay to Stephen Andrade, a nearly 18-year Trader Joe’s veteran in Massachusetts. Andrade lost his job making store signs in June after a manager accused him of leaving a power saw in the back of the store after being told to remove it.

Both Andrade and the union previously told HuffPost they believed his firing was retaliatory. The NLRB officials who looked into the matter agreed. The complaint says Trader Joe’s should have to send Andrade a letter “apologizing for any hardship or distress caused by his discharge.”

In a phone interview, Andrade, 46, said he was pleased to see that prosecutors found merit in his story.

“I hope that the union can keep chalking up some wins and we can hold the company accountable for their practices and trying to union-bust,” Andrade said. “It really just seems like it would be in everybody’s best interests if the company would just deal fairly. But I know that’s not how capitalism works these days.”

The complaint also states that Trader Joe’s retaliated against union workers in Massachusetts and Minnesota by providing them with lesser 401(k) contributions than non-union workers. Officials say the move was intended to “discourage employees from engaging” in their protected rights.

“I hope that the union can keep chalking up some wins and we can hold the company accountable.”

– Stephen Andrade, fired Trader Joe’s employee

Trader Joe’s broke the law by failing to bargain over both the retirement benefits and Andrade’s discipline before making “unilateral changes,” the complaint alleges.

Trader Joe’s, which is based in Monrovia, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have already accused the grocer of breaking the law in other ways amid the union campaign ― by punishing workers who wore union pins, by telling them they would lose raises if they organized, and by providing workers with “false and misleading information” about the union, Trader Joe’s United. Those earlier charges are all part of the new complaint that was issued Tuesday.

Stephen Andrade, who worked nearly 18 years for Trader Joe’s, was fired by the company in June. Labor prosecutors say it was retaliatory.

Andrade’s store in Hadley, Massachusetts, became the first Trader Joe’s store in the nation to form a union last July, by a vote of 45 to 31. The election win by Trader Joe’s United was followed by other victories in Minneapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; and Oakland, California, bringing the number of union stores so far to four. (Trader Joe’s has challenged the union’s win at the Louisville location.)

Trader Joe’s United has accused the company of trying to blunt the organizing campaign by punishing union leaders and supporters. The union has also filed charges with the labor board alleging the company has failed to bargain in good faith. The union is still without a contract, even though the first store unionized nearly a year and a half ago.

Maeg Yosef, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s United and a longtime co-worker of Andrade’s at the Hadley store, said Trader Joe’s improved its company-wide retirement contribution in 2022 while keeping union stores at the lower rate. She said the union and the company bargained to make the union workers eligible for the higher contribution, but the company set out terms that the union believed could jeopardize future benefits.

“Trader Joe’s United has accused the company of trying to blunt the organizing campaign by punishing union leaders and supporters.”

“They acted unlawfully and blamed it on the union … They said it was our fault that people didn’t get this compensation,” Yosef said. “This was a huge chilling factor for organizing.”

Management recently informed workers at the Hadley store that they would get a “special bonus” compensating them for the lower contributions some received for 2022, according to a flier. But the union says workers haven’t received them.

Yosef said the union was “thrilled” that prosecutors found merit in the claims over the retirement benefits and over Andrade’s firing. The labor board has scheduled a hearing for January for both sides to present their cases.

Andrade said he was an employee in good standing until he became more vocal about workers having enough time to do their jobs.

The “crew member incident report” that documented Andrade’s firing said employees are “not permitted to have power tools in the store,” and that Andrade demonstrated “disregard for the company’s safety practices” by not removing the saw. “This follows a continued pattern of you not taking direction,” the incident report alleged.

Andrade, whose wife works at the same store, said the saw did not belong to him and predated his arrival at the Hadley store nearly a decade ago.

Andrade has been working as an illustrator since his firing. Labor board cases can take years to resolve due to appeals, but Andrade said he would certainly consider returning to Trader Joe’s if the ruling goes his way.

“I’m prepared to stick it out for however long,” he said.

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