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Trader Joe’s Faces Backlash After Allegedly Firing Employee For Raising COVID-19 Safety Concerns

#BoycottTraderJoes is gaining support on Twitter following the incident

Trader Joe’s at 670 Columbus Ave.
Trader Joe’s on the Upper West Side
Trader Joe’s [Official Photo]
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Grocery chain Trader Joe’s came under fire over the weekend after one of its former NYC employees claimed in a Twitter thread that he was terminated after sending a letter to the company’s CEO suggesting ways to enhance the store’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Calls to boycott Trader Joe’s over the incident have swelled as the social media callout went viral, with prominent scientists including former Occupational Safety and Health Administration head Dr. David Michaels publicly showing support for the fired employee.

Last Friday, former Trader Joe’s employee Ben Bonnema tweeted a photo of a letter that he sent to Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane suggesting ways to strengthen COVID-19 safety protocols at Bonnema’s store at 670 Columbus Avenue, on the Upper West Side. Bonnema cited recent guidance that 13 scientists had sent to the Biden administration on how to improve COVID-19 safety in high-risk workplaces, and used that as the basis to suggest steps that the company should take to upgrade its own workplace safety, including installing heftier air filtration systems in the store and adopting a three-strike policy for customers who refuse to comply with safety measures like wearing masks properly while in the store.

Trader Joe’s allegedly responded to the letter by firing Bonnema on February 26. “In a recent email, you suggest adopting a ‘3 strike’ policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask,” the company outlined in Bonnema’s termination letter, which he posted on Twitter. “These suggestions are not in line with our core Values. In addition, you state that Trader Joe’s is not ‘showing up for us’ without adopting your policies.”

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told Gothamist that Bonnema was fired over “disrespect he showed toward our customers,” and said that the chain has “never, and would never, terminate a Crew Member’s employment for raising safety concerns.”

Online, a groundswell of support was growing for Bonnema after he posted the letter and the termination notice on Twitter. Michaels, one of the scientists behind the letter to the Biden administration and the former head of the OSHA, tweeted that the federal agency should investigate Bonnema’s firing. Don Milton, another of the 13 scientists behind the letter, joined in calls on Twitter to #BoycottTraderJoes. The @TraderJoesUnion account, which promotes Trader Joe’s workers’ unionization efforts, tweeted support for Bonnema.

Trader Joe’s employees have been working through dangerous conditions throughout the pandemic. Over the summer, two unmasked men assaulted 10 store employees at a Trader Joe’s location in Murray Hill. Last spring, a Trader Joe’s in Cobble Hill stayed open after learning that one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. Gothamist reports that the Upper West Side store where Bonnema worked has come under fire previously for unsafe working conditions, including an alleged instance where an employee was nearly fired after insisting that they wear a mask prior to an official mask mandate.

Trader Joe’s extra benefits for employees working through the pandemic — including paying an extra $2 per hour as “thank you pay” and offering a 20 percent store discount — are set to expire next month, according to Gothamist.

  • Ex-Trader Joe’s Worker Claims He Was Fired For Requesting More Store Safeguards Against COVID [Gothamist]
  • Customers are boycotting Trader Joe’s after the chain fired an employee who asked the CEO to enhance COVID-19 protections [Business Insider]