Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) is a nationwide chain grocery store that offers a unique assortment of baked goods, frozen meals, dips, spices, snacks and much more. What sets TJ’s apart from other grocery stores is its lack of branded items and their relatively low prices. Browsing through the store, a shopper will find everything from basic loaves of bread to cauliflower gnocchi, all with the signature TJ’s logo. One of their most popular items that might be familiar is “everything but the bagel seasoning.” Usually, when the name “Trader Joe’s” name is headlined, it is due to new innovative products that have just dropped. Trader Joe’s has gained a cult following by keeping consumers interested in constant new product rollout.
More recently, TJ’s is being highlighted for a much different reason. On Feb. 26, Ben Bonnema, an employee at a New York City location, wrote an email to TJ’s CEO Dan Bane stating his grievances about COVID-19 protocols and store air filtration. The email urged for stricter policies for customer cooperation with wearing masks and better air quality. According to CNN, Bonnema wrote, “We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work. Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.” On Saturday, Bonnema took to Twitter, stating he had been terminated after sending the email to Bane. After posting his termination letter via Twitter, his story went viral, inciting outrage as Twitter users began threatening boycotts to the chain. Bonnema’s email is not the first time increased standards for workplace environments have been called to attention. Currently, many scientists are urging the Biden administration to set better air quality standards in workplaces across the nation. One of the scientists that contributed in the letter to the Biden Administration, Dr. David Michaels, Tweeted on Feb. 27, “I ran The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Agency for 7 years under Barack Obama. As I read this termination notice, Trader Joe’s has just broken the law by firing Ben Bonnema.” Another scientist, Dr. Kimberly Prather, P.h.D, took to Twitter last week, Tweeting, “I am one of the letter writers. We wrote this letter to protect people like Ben. His letter is an excellent science-based request. We have been shopping there for 20 yrs. We will not stop until Trader Joe’s takes this seriously. This is causing me to remember some TJ trips now. The TJs where we live let’s one guy come in without a mask almost every day. He is clearly looking for a confrontation. When anyone approaches him, he turns it into a battle. They continue to let him shop. I offered to bring in masks for their employees early on when they didn’t have any to wear. The manager told me his sister was a nurse so he would rather I not supply his employees with masks but instead save them for healthcare workers like his sister. I assured him that there were enough medical masks…it was N95s that were in short supply. He still declined while his employees watched. Come on TJs….you are so much better than this. Protect your employees and acknowledge.” In an email by Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson of the grocery store to The Washington Post, it was stated that “he was fired because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers” and added: “Nothing is more important at Trader Joe’s than the safety of our Crew Members and customers.”
In the termination report sent to Bonnema the following sentence was written, “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.” At this time, Trader Joe’s has not reinstated Bonnema’s position in the company.