The Trader Joe's Employee Fired For Requesting COVID-19 Protections Was Just Rehired

On March 3, Trader Joe's reinstated Ben Bonnema, the employee they fired for raising concerns about the inadequacy company's COVID safety measures. "It's been a stressful week since then, but it makes sense that they offered to reinstate because it was a completely unlawful termination," Bonemma told The Daily Beast.

Bonnema wrote a letter to Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane, which Bonnema shared on Twitter, asking Bane to update company policies to include refusing entrance to anyone without a mask while still offering to shop for them, improve the filtration within the store so that virus-bearing aerosols are better caught, and a three-strikes policy for removing uncooperative customers from the store. "I was recently shouted and sworn at by a customer who would not wear his mask above his nose, despite Mates already asking him to do so," Bonnema wrote. "He was allowed to finish his shopping and check out."

The reply, which Bonnema also shared on Twitter, stated that since his employment was at will, Trader Joe's required no reason to fire him. However, they supplied one, stating that the three-strikes suggestion would hurt customers with a medical condition that prohibits total mask wearing. "It is clear that you do not understand our Values," they write. "As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe's." Why customers with medical needs could not have Mates conduct the shopping inside for them was not explained. The resulting media pressure evidently forced Trader Joe's to reconsider.

Continued labor issues for Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's walkback from Bonnema's firing will not end the ripple effect from the event. As Ben Dictor, Bonnema's lawyer, explained, they were happy with Bonnema's reinstatement, but "We are also committed to ensuring that no essential workers of Trader Joe's face any further retaliation for raising concerns about their working conditions." The focus on working conditions within Trader Joe's, and Bonnema's point – that his firing was another reason to unionize — bring back the memories of the abortive union attempt of spring 2020.

During the first few weeks the United States felt the presence of the coronavirus pandemic, Trader Joe's and other grocery chains suffered the brunt of the panic, prompting a reconsideration of working conditions. As Eater covered in April 2020, Trader Joe's delivered anti-union talks to staff. One regional manager stated that the hazard pay petition was actually a union sign list. "I am convinced that any Crew Member who critically considers the question will conclude that being a Crew Member at Trader Joe's beats being a 'member' of a union," declared in a company email at the time, while neglecting to consider the option of both. However, as Bonnema's situation has shown, being a Crew Member doesn't safeguard the employees at work.

The reason Bonnema again has a job at Trader Joe's is almost certainly due to customer pressure. As Business Insider reported earlier this week, the public reaction to Bonnema's dismissal included calls for a boycott.