From Where I Stand: Don’t give Trader Joe’s a free pass for anti-union bullying
By Arun Ivatury
On Oct. 27, Trader Joe’s opened a store in College Park, to a good deal of fanfare and enthusiasm.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. What’s not to like about being just a stone’s throw away from this fun, quirky grocery store, after many years when the nearest food aisles were at the 7-11? My family, for one, loves not having to trek to Silver Spring for our TJ favorites.
Trader Joe’s works hard to stoke the positive vibes: Witness, for example, its aloha shirt-wearing employees and whimsical in-store signs.
But the company’s recent decision to permanently shut down a store in New York City where employees planned to unionize darkens the mood.
Trader Joe’s aggressive anti-worker tactics are hardly unique. It is par for the course in America for corporations to force their own employees through a gauntlet of hate, hostility and harassment just to form a union, though unionizing is (theoretically) protected in the U. S. under federal law and sanctioned by the United Nations as a universal human right. Companies like Starbucks, Apple and Amazon take pains to present a positive, progressive image while remorselessly bullying workers who organize — intimidating, retaliating against and even firing union supporters. It’s why fewer than 7% of private-sector workers belong to a union, though more than 70% of Americans view unions favorably.
People form unions because banding together with their co-workers (and workers throughout an industry) gives them a better shot at a living wage, good benefits, time off to take care of loved ones, predictable work schedules, a safe worksite and — not least — basic dignity and respect. And when workers win these things, it benefits everyone by setting a higher bar for fair compensation and by creating a counterweight to the dominant influence of corporations.
It’s on all of us to support our neighbors who choose to form a union. When workers at our favorite stores organize (as MOM’s College Park workers currently are), we can be visible and vocal in our support, following their lead on what would help most. And if companies react with animus, we can let them know their conduct is unacceptable — and that it erodes our brand loyalty. Perhaps most importantly, we can push our elected officials to hold companies accountable for anti-union bullying. Because while most of us welcome the new amenities coming to our neighborhoods, we should not be asked to ransom our community’s values for the privilege.
College Park resident Arun Ivatury is deputy organizing director of the Service Employees International Union.