The Controversial Reason A Trader Joe's Worker Was Told To Go Home

A trip to Trader Joe's wouldn't be complete without a friendly interaction with an employee — especially those who ring you up at checkout. "These are so good, I can't stop eating them," one of them might say about a bag of the Buffalo-style almonds you tossed in your cart at the last minute. "Going to a party after this?" another might query upon eyeing your many bags of Patio Potato Chips. To the untrained eye of a shopper who's never worked behind the counter at a grocery store, the staff at TJ's might appear to be happy as can be, smiling at every stranger who crosses their path as they artfully arrange a display of seasonal muffin mix. But just as the compliments you receive at Trader Joe's might not be sincere, the sunny disposition of those who work at the chain might be masking some less-sunny working conditions. 

This week, a Trader Joe's employee was told to go home after refusing to remove a pin that their manager didn't approve of, sparking a debate over free speech and worker's rights at the chain, and tying in with a burgeoning campaign among Trader Joe's employees (per Huffpost).

A pro-union pin caused a stir

Trader Joe's employee Jamie Edwards, who's worked at the chain for over a decade, was confronted by their manager at an outpost in Hadley, Massachusetts when they were spotted wearing a "Trader Joe's United" pin on their hat (per Huffpost). After pulling up a National Labor Relations Board article and learning that managers were not legally allowed to prohibit workers from sporting "union insignia" on the clock in most cases, Edwards returned to their post wearing the pin, at which point they were sent home. 

The pin represents the independent nonprofit helming the worker-led union drive that's picking up speed at that very outpost, where workers filed for a union election on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. Echoing union drives among workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Chipotle, and other large chains, the campaign stemmed from a string of worker demands for things like safer working conditions, retirement benefits, wage bumps, and increased paid time off, per a Trader Joe's United Instagram post.

This isn't the first time a Trader Joe's employee has been disciplined for speaking out. Last year, the chain made headlines when an employee was fired for requesting COVID-19 protections, such as stricter face mask policies. By unionizing, workers hope in part to change the way managers react when they voice concerns over their basic rights.