Trader Joe's, which has a cult following among consumers, is facing a boycott after an employee claims he was fired for demanding stricter mask requirements for customers.
Ben Bonnema shared his story in a Twitter thread on Friday, claiming that he was terminated from a Trader Joe's location in New York City because he recommended five changes to improve safety amid the pandemic, including implementing a "three strike policy" to ban customers who repeatedly flout mask rules.
Trader Joe's, in the termination letter, said Bonnema's suggestions are not in line with the company's core values.
"In addition, you state that Trader Joe's is not 'showing up for us' without adopting your policies. It is clear that you do not understand our Values. As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe's," the termination letter said.
Bonnema's other three recommendations involved improving air quality in stores by installing a more advanced filtration system, increasing Air Change per Hour and limiting store capacity based on CO2 levels. He cited recent articles and studies about air filtration to drive home his point that more could be done to protect workers. The letter was signed by Bonnema and another employee at the Upper West Side store, whose name was redacted in the version posted on Twitter.
On Monday UFCW International President Marc Perrone issued a statement saying “Trader Joe’s firing an essential grocery worker who bravely spoke out about COVID dangers in stores is a blatant example of corporate intimidation meant to silence workers across the country. The CEOs of every grocery chain have a responsibility to put public safety first and must be held accountable for efforts to cover up COVID safety failures."
A Twitter account associated with a workers union for the grocery chain expressed support for Bonnema.
A representative for Trader Joe's told Business Insider in a statement on Saturday that the store leadership's decision to terminate Bonnema stemmed from the "disrespect he showed toward our customers."
In February, the grocer said it began paying hourly employees an additional $2 per hour (in addition to the $2 bump they got at the start of the COVID crisis). Effective Feb. 1, Trader Joe’s said the “thank you” premium for all hourly, non-management crew members was increased by $2, for a total of $4 an hour.
“Moreover, during this time, we have offered crew members a few additional ways to qualify for and maintain health insurance,” the retailer said. “We want crew members to have the opportunity to take extended time off without repercussions to their benefits.”
With more than 500 stores in 40-plus states, Monrovia, California-based Trader Joe’s is No. 28 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.