Just after the holiday grocery rush slows down, Trader Joe’s is encouraging part-time workers to work at least three days a week, The Guardian reports. This “informal” policy will take effect in January 2023, and failing to follow it could allegedly result in part-time workers losing their jobs. An anonymous employee told The Guardian that they were already seeing retaliation against those who requested to be on the schedule only one or two days a week.
This is a three-day work minimum, not to be confused with the recent three-day work week policy recently tested by Chick-fil-A. In the case of the latter, full-time employees would be able to limit their work week to just three days by extending shifts to be as long as 14 hours and in return have the flexibility to take on other part-time gigs or simply enjoy four days off the clock. The manager who implemented this change noticed better employee retention and momentum throughout the workday.
The rationale behind Trader Joe’s decision is that the company wants employees to be more engaged and knowledgeable, using this strategy as a way to combat what The Guardian calls “hiring issues.” But the timing of the decision also comes just after the first Trader Joe’s stores voted to unionize, and labor organizers at Trader Joe’s United argue that this policy unfairly targets “parents, students, older crew for whom Trader Joe’s is a ‘retirement job’, crew with disabilities, veteran crew who have cut back their hours due to work injuries, and other crew members that need to work one or two days a week.”
The three-day work week minimum will not be implemented at the two unionized stores because the company cannot implement policy changes without bargaining them with the union first. In those two stores, about 15% of crew members work one or two days a week.
Even if this new policy isn’t directly retaliation for certain Trader Joe’s locations unionizing, the push to implement the work minimums so quickly could be seen as an attempt to cement these policies before other stores start to join the union wave and consequently require such policies to be bargained. According to Trader Joe’s United, the two locations that voted to unionize (Hadley, Massachusetts and Minneapolis, Minnesota) are currently in bargaining sessions with Trader Joe’s corporate, though common anti-union tactics are already at play: Organizers claim to have sat for three hours, waiting to bargain, before corporate showed up.
The Trader Joe’s union is working with United Food and Commercial Workers to get a contract in place at those two locations while rallying other store locations to join them. The workers’ reason for unionizing is not unlike the reason several other restaurant and grocery workers have joined the union movement over the last year:
Throughout the pandemic, grocery workers everywhere have faced countless health and safety hazards at work. Through it all, you’ve kept our communities running and are the reason why Trader Joe’s remains profitable. Your work has always been essential, and you deserve respect – not diminishing benefits and stagnant wages. Crew Members across the country are coming together to unionize at their Trader Joe’s stores for real job security, transparency from the company, a voice at work, living wages, and guaranteed benefits.
And while the company may be trying to introduce tactics to diminish workers’ control and power over their environment, these are the very policies that often spark otherwise apathetic employees to join a movement. This move that Trader Joe’s attempted to quietly enact just might be what sparks the union wave to ripple through Trader Joe’s locations across the country.