Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 are picketing the new Trader Joe’s grocery store in St. Paul.
The store, which opened June 26 at the corner of Lexington Parkway and Randolph Avenue, has drawn criticism from Local 789 leaders, who say the chain’s workers were not given an option to unionize and that the store will detract business from nearby unionized stores.
“The grocery dollar is finite; it’s not growing,” said Bernie Hesse, Local 789’s director of special projects.
Hesse has been picketing the store along with other UFCW members since the opening. He worries that shoppers who normally buy groceries at union stores will turn their loyalties over to Trader Joe’s.
“This is about $8 million a year that isn’t going to union stores,” he said.
Other UFCW members said they were on the picket line to let Trader Joe’s workers know they have the right to unionize. “We aren’t telling them you have to have a union,” said picketer Debbie Pabarcus. “We just want to lay out what we can offer.”
Pabarcus said the company’s workers have been friendly. Some have even brought her water on hot days.
So far, though, the company has refused to answer questions from UFCW leaders about organizing issues, and Local 789 has not been able to find out what benefits and wages Trader Joe’s employees have.
“They don’t buy locally,” said UFCW picketer George Pokorny Jr., “and the money all goes back to Germany. They just aren’t community-friendly.”
The community seems to have embraced the new store, however. Hesse was discouraged by the Franken, Wellstone, and Obama bumper stickers on many cars entering the store’s parking lot.
“We have to get back into the practice of educating people,” Hesse said. “But we’re not giving up.”
Rose Friedman is an intern with The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation.
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