Three days after Trader Joe’s announced it was closing its Capitol Hill store “indefinitely” after staff took time off for Friday’s Black Lives Matter demonstration, the company said the location will reopen after a one- to two-week remodel and that staff will be paid in the meantime.
Monday’s announcement follows accusations by some employees that Trader Joe’s abruptly shuttered the store, on East Madison Street and 17th Avenue, partly in retaliation against workers who had asked for time off to join in the protest.
Erin Or, a 28-year-old employee, said the extended closure came after Trader Joe’s corporate office in California learned that managers at the Capitol Hill store decided to close the store early Friday afternoon because dozens of staff wanted to attend the demonstration.
Or, who is involved in a worker-led campaign to “save” the Capitol Hill store, said she and some other workers believed the closure may also be related to efforts by employees to push for higher wages, changes to company health insurance, and other measures.
On Monday, Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, declined to comment on details relating to the Black Lives Matter protest or the workers’ demands, but said Friday’s “unexpected closure” had been necessary “because we did not have enough Crew Members available to run the store.”
Friend-Daniel said the Monrovia, California-based company hopes to reopen the Capitol Hill location “in a week or two,” and will use the closure for “a remodel plan to address safety and security concerns that have developed over the last year.”
Friend-Daniel said Trader Joe’s stands “together with and shares support for our Black Crew Members, customers and communities.”
But Or said that the company’s statements on Monday contrast with its actions on Friday.
She said that on Friday, an official with Trader Joe’s corporate office contacted the Capitol Hill store about the early closure and, after learning the reason, had ordered the store to be closed “indefinitely.” Signs posted on the front doors stated the closure would take effect Saturday.
Workers are skeptical of explanations about the remodel or about safety or security concerns at the store — issues Or said weren’t mentioned in an email the company sent to employees on Friday. “To suddenly just have these problems — it just seems really suspicious,” Or said.
Friend-Daniel declined to specify the nature of the safety or security concerns. She said Trader Joe’s believes employees “very much have the right and ability to discuss possible unionization or other collective bargaining-type activity.”
In March, Trader Joe’s sent a memo to store managers “encouraging them to relay a message to employees: Joining a union might be a bad idea,” according to The New York Times. In a subsequent letter to all employees, CEO Dan Bane dismissed efforts by workers to unionize Trader Joe’s as “a distraction,” according to a report in The Guardian.
Would-be customers who showed up Monday to find the store closed seemed to side with the workers — hardly a surprise in this ultra-liberal neighborhood.
Some said the timing of the closure — just after employees asked to attend Black Lives Matter protest — would earn the company heavy public criticism. “This [story] needs to get out there,” said 46-year-old Tor Lee, a poet and union member. “This is really egregious.”