A Trader Joe's employee says he was fired after he asked the company's CEO to enhance its COVID-19 protections

Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider
  • A New York man said he was fired by Trader Joe's after he requested the company make changes to better protect workers.

  • Ben Bonnema said on Twitter he was fired after sending a letter to the company's CEO.

  • In the termination letter he shared, the company said he did not share the grocery chain's "core Values."

  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A New York City man said he was fired by Trader Joe's after he sent a letter to the company's CEO requesting the company make several changes he said would more thoroughly protect the grocery chain's employees from COVID-19.

In a tweet Friday evening, Ben Bonnema said he was fired from the Trader Joe's location on New York City's Upper West Side after he sent a letter to Dan Bane, the CEO of Trader Joe's. Bonnema outlined changes he believed the company should implement to further protect staff from the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bonnema did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment Saturday. A spokesperson for Trader Joe's called Bonnema's account of his firing "misinformation."

In the letter, which Bonnema shared on Twitter, Bonnema asked for five changes in his Trader Joe's store, including enhancements to the store's HVAC system, an occupancy limit based on the level of CO2 in the store, more stringent face mask requirements for customers, and a three-strike policy for customers who refuse to follow COVID-19 protocol.

"Unfortunately, ASHRAE and the CDC and OSHA have downplayed the dangers of aerosols since the pandemic's origins, so saying that Trader Joe's 'exceeds their standards' isn't good enough," he wrote in the letter.

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"We should be following the guidelines of scientists who study respiratory transmission," he added, including a link to a February 17 article from The New York Times that reported a group of 13 scientists had called on the Biden administration to release rules to limit airborne transmissions of the virus in places like meat-packing plants and prisons.

"We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work," he wrote. "Please, show up for us by adopting these policies."

But Bonnema said Trader Joe's terminated him after sending the letter on behalf of his coworkers and shared his termination letter, dated Friday, February 26, on Twitter.

"In a recent email, you suggest adopting a '3 strike' policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask," the termination letter read.

In Bonnema's letter to the CEO, he had called for the company to enforce mask usage - even in the cases of medical exemptions, which are often illegitimate, writing that Trader Joe's employees can accommodate such people by shopping on their behalf.

"These suggestions are not in line with our core Values," the termination letter continued. "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 letter concluded.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's told Insider Saturday: "We have never, and would never, terminate a Crew Member's employment for raising safety concerns," adding "store leadership terminated this Crew Member's employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers."

"Nothing is more important at Trader Joe's than the safety of our Crew Members and customers," the spokesperson said. "We encourage all Crew Members to take an active role in store safety, and share their suggestions with leadership. During his short tenure with Trader Joe's, this Crew Member's suggestions were listened to, and appropriately addressed."

A group of Trader Joe's workers promoting a workers union for the grocery store voiced support for Bonnema on Twitter. "We've spoken with @BenBonnema and are extending unequivocal support and solidarity. We will not be providing comment outside what Ben decides to share, but are supporting him in every way possible in this fight," Crew for a Trader Joe's Union said.

Retail and grocery workers were hailed as heroes early in the pandemic, as they worked to keep essential businesses operational during the lockdown. But protections for retail employees remain weak in the United States, and many workers and labor activists have called for companies to do more.

Bonnema's claims would not be the first time employees of Trader Joe's complained about their safety during the pandemic. In November 2020, employees of the grocery chain told Gothamist they were in a "state of terror" and claimed the company was not properly protecting workers from the spread of the disease.

Employees of several New York City Trader Joe's locations, including the one on the Upper West Side, told Gothamist last year they were fearful of punishment from management should they voice concerns.

In a press release earlier in February, Trader Joe's outlined how it said it was protecting employees and customers from COVID-19, including requiring face masks for most customers (and providing accommodations for individuals who were medically unable), providing masks and gloves to staff, health screenings for employees, and increased cleaning at its stores.

"The safety and wellbeing of our Crew Members and customers is, and always will be, top of mind," a spokesperson for Trader Joe's told Gothamist last year.

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