Trader Joe's Employees Reveal What It's Really Like During The Pandemic

As of late April, more than 40 grocery store workers in the United States had died of COVID-19 (via Grubstreet), with more than 5,000 not at work either directly or indirectly because of the pandemic (via Supermarket News). Complaints from grocery store employees about a lack of social distancing and personal protective equipment have led many to question whether enough is being done to protect the health and well being of retail workers as American stores and businesses begin to reopen for the summer (via Financial Times).

Although many retail workers are concerned with unsanitary working conditions and whether their health insurance will cover them if they get sick, they are equally concerned with the possibility that they will be retaliated against by their employer if they speak out.

To avoid this concern, a full-time Trader Joe's crew member (the company refers to employees as "crew members") who has been working for the company for more than two years spoke with Refinery 29 under the condition of anonymity.

The crew member shared that when the stay-at-home orders were put into place, customers went on shopping sprees unlike they'd ever seen before. The crew member estimated that some $250,000 were spent by hoarding shoppers. As a result of the panic buying, the store had to impose a two-item cap on everything in the store.

'Upper management just didn't take it seriously'

The crew member accused Trader Joe's of being "really slow to implement safety measures for the crew." The employee alleges that it wasn't until last week that they were allowed to wear masks, though they were permitted to use gloves at the cash register going back to March.

"Upper management just didn't take it seriously until they had to, so that was really disappointing," the employee said.

On a financial front, the company gave her (and some of her co-workers) a $300 bonus, but it was taxed at 50 percent so they only received half of it in their bank account. When the employees called this into question, the store gave everyone a $2/hour raise, which was only temporary. The crew member also pointed out that although they're a full-time employee, they "don't even qualify for health insurance through Trader Joe's." The company has, however, provided employees with two weeks of paid sick leave. According to the employee, the grocery store has recently been letting "a lot more people" in to shop, which has made them and co-workers feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps the one bright spot in the interview is in regard to their interactions with shoppers. "Honestly, people have been really, really good," she said. "They've been super kind and really patient with us. Everyone is saying, 'thank you so much for coming in and working, you guys are heroes.'"

Trader Joe's responds to allegations

Trader Joe's responded to the employee by saying that the company has "offered crew members multiple additional ways to qualify for and maintain health insurance."

The company added that "as this unprecedented situation continues to evolve, so has our approach to doing all that we can to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our crew members and customers. We have continued to look to the CDC for guidance on best health and safety practices, and work closely with local and state health officials, meeting and exceeding all health and safety recommendations."

The grocery store chain did not respond to the employee's allegation that they did not initially want crew members wearing a mask or gloves. However, Trader Joe's did say that "every day, [they are] listening to crew members and customers and re-evaluating what we're doing and what we can do better."