Seattle Trader Joe's employees claim company closed store due to their support of Black Lives Matter

Management says the store is closed for remodeling, but some workers disagree.

June 16, 2020, 10:10 PM

A Trader Joe's store in Seattle has been closed temporarily, and some workers says it's related to employees' support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 11 a group of employees at the Trader Joe's Capitol Hill store informed their managers that they would be attending a Black Lives Matter protest the next day, which they were told would be an excused absence, according to Peter Strand, a crew member at the store and an employee-appointed spokesperson.

Due to limited staff, the store had an early closure on that Friday, Strand said. But upon learning this, Trader Joe's corporate office subsequently decided that location would be "closed indefinitely, effective immediately," according to Strand.

"I think we were all shocked there has been no prior indication that a closure was a possibility," Strand told ABC News.

Dismayed with the sudden announcement, the group of employees reached out to the community for a protest of their own, Strand said.

On Sunday the group posted a petition to save the store, and within 24 hours it had garnered more than 19,000 signatures.

Some employees at the store believe the store's abrupt closure on the day that dozens of its workers protested in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was a deliberate retaliation from the company.

"We believe that our community deserves to know that Trader Joe's corporate took this action in response to our participation in [the] march," Strand said. "That was a clear tipping point."

But Trader Joe's spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel told ABC News in a statement Monday that they closed the Capitol Hill location early last Friday due to the lack of crew members and that it will only be a temporary closure.

PHOTO: Protesters silently march up 23rd Avenue South in Seattle, Washington on June 12, 2020.
Protesters silently march up 23rd Avenue South in Seattle, Washington on June 12, 2020.
Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"During this temporary closure, we are taking the time to execute a remodel plan to address safety and security concerns that have developed over the last year," the statement said. "We will reopen the store as soon as these construction projects are completed, and it is our hope that we can welcome back our customers in the next week or two."

Friend-Daniel also added that Trader Joe's will continue paying their crew members for their scheduled shifts during this time.

When pressed on the employees' claims, Friend-Daniel said, "We have more than 50,000 Crew Members across the country and are well aware that a number of our Crew Members are choosing to speak out against racial and social injustice" and referenced Trader Joe's previous statement on its support of the black community.

Staff at the store said they received that same announcement on Monday via their scheduling app.

"That is a smokescreen -- we were not told anything about a proposed remodel until today, we were not told anything about extended closures," Strand told ABC News. 'That is them regaining control of the narrative because they are feeling the pressure."

Strand said he and some of his coworkers suspect the company saw their store as a "hot spot for worker organizing," given what he claims is a history of failed attempts to organize workers.

Strand provided ABC News with a letter which he says was sent out in late March by Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane to employees, discouraging them from joining a union.

In the letter, addressed to "All Crew Members," Bane said that recent union campaigns "seek to capitalize on the current unstable environment in America -- one in which misinformation and fear are spreading unchecked in the media."

Calling the efforts to unionize a "distraction," Bane said that union advocates want to "create some sort of wedge in our company through which they can drive discontent." He also said that, in comparison to union contracts, Trader Joe's offers higher starting wages, pay raises every six months, a higher cap rate, and significant upward mobility and benefits.

However, he pledged that if there are 30% of the crew members in any store who want a union vote, they will oblige "when this current period of unrest has settled down."

"Trader Joe’s Crew Members very much have the right and ability to discuss possible unionization or other collective bargaining-type activity." Friend-Daniel added.

Most of the crew members there work paycheck to paycheck, said Strand.

"Many of us [are] working without health insurance while having steady exposure to the public," he said.

Prior to the temporary closure, employees at the Capitol Hill location were organizing to fight for a living wage, health insurance, hazard pay and other protective measures against the coronavirus, Strand said.

Earlier this month Trader Joe's issued a statement in support of its black crew members and customers, echoing the sentiments of many companies who have affirmed their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.

"At Trader Joe's we uphold the human rights and civil rights of all of our Crew Members and customers and communities. We have no tolerance for racism, discrimination, harassment or intimidation," the statement said in part.

Strand called the statement vague and disingenuous, and said he has not seen the company take actions that tangibly support the movement or black crew members.

"This labor struggle is not just about getting our jobs back -- it's about loudly and unequivocally denouncing corporate anti-blackness," Strand said.

This story has been updated with additional comments from Trader Joe's.

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