Workers’ Correspondent: Trader Joe’s Uses Hazard Pay to Cut Raises, Workers Push Back

Photo Source: Tribune Supporter

By Joanna Meyer

Trader Joe’s has used the current economic situation to drive down wages and try to cut raises, using a temporary pandemic “hazard pay” as a bait-and-switch on their workers like myself. When workers spoke out last month, Trader Joe’s made some concessions, but we know that it’s still not enough.

While Trader Joe’s does tend to pay better than other service jobs, the wage really is still barely livable, especially in more expensive cities. During the pandemic, some state and local governments have required grocery stores to pay their employees a certain amount of hazard pay.

In response, Trader Joe’s temporarily raised wages at all stores. In February of this year, they increased their so-called “Thank You” premium on our wages from $2 an hour to $4 an hour.

Executives suggested the hazard pay would end when the pandemic was over, which they estimated might go through end of the year. Instead, they ended all hazard pay on May 17, without any plans to reinstate the typical June raise.

In May, we also had an annual review that workers submit about the company and our experiences. The company rushed to close the time period to submit the review only a couple of days before they announced they would be getting rid of the hazard pay. It’s clear that they did this on purpose to get their good reviews in before we realized what they were doing.

Trader Joe’s tried to play off the wage cut by saying that we would make more money in the few months we received the hazard pay than if we were to receive our raises, but I did the math and that’s not true.

First, over time, you definitely lose money by not having that raise compared to the hazard pay. With the hazard pay I made $21.35 an hour for three months and then I would go back to $17.35 an hour. With the raise, I would make $18.10 an hour permanently. Second, the hazard pay is not a substitute for our actual pay. It should be in addition to our normal pay and raises, because we are working in hazardous conditions.

Trader Joe’s constantly told us to be thankful for the hazard pay, and then took it away without hesitation. When workers brought up our concerns to management, they told us to go work elsewhere and see how we like it there. Eventually, after enough workers pushed back, the company caved and said they would give us a raise, but instead of our normal raise of 75 cents an hour, we got a smaller one of 50 cents an hour.

Trader Joe’s hasn’t just shortchanged long-time workers. After the pandemic began, Trader Joe’s began hiring workers at a lower wage, even though it was still making the same amount of money as before. They used the pandemic and people’s desperation to find a new job to pay new hires less.

After a year of being able to pay us a good wage, Trader Joe’s tricks just show that these companies can pay better and have the means to do so. Who worked during the pandemic and kept their business open? It was us, the workers. We deserve more.

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