Trader Joe's 'thank you' pay for employees will be slashed in half

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Three months after increasing thank-you pay for its employees, Trader Joe’s will slash the extra pay by half. The pay was temporarily raised by $4 for hourly workers in February. Now $2 is being taken away.

That was quite a bump in hourly wages in February. Hourly workers do not usually see $4 per hour increases in pay. Since the pandemic has entered a new phase with the availability of vaccines for those who want them, the hourly workers will be thanked a little less, apparently. Back in March 2020, Trader Joe’s gave its employees an additional $2 per hour in “thank you” pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was followed by the additional hourly pay in February. These increases in pay fell in line with some cities that were passing “hazard pay” ordinances for grocery workers. The kicker for Trader Joe’s employees is that the hazard pay ordinances applied to large grocery store chains. Trader Joe’s doesn’t fall into that category.

But in an April 12 email sent to all of its employees, including its two Oakland locations, Trader Joe’s executives wrote that “Given the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, we will be returning our ‘thank you’ pay to $2 an hour for all hourly crew members.” The memo was sent by company’s CEO Dan Bane, President Jon Basalone, and Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Bryan Palbaum. Trader Joe’s employees shared a copy of the letter with The Oaklandside.

Needless to say, employees have become accustomed to receiving a higher hourly wage so the news isn’t sitting well with them. A petition has been put together by the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee. In the petition, the committee wrote that “after only three months, the company announced that on May 1st they will take away our additional two dollars.” “We fear the rest of the ‘Thank You Pay’ is soon to follow.” Though there has been no official confirmation by Trader Joe’s, a notice dated May 3 was shared on a Trader Joe’s Reddit forum. It said that hazard pay would go away entirely on May 17.

The petition also calls for full health care insurance benefits.

Along with urging the company to keep the $4 extra pay in place, the petition calls on Trader Joe’s to reinstate full health care coverage for all current employees, which they claim was nixed in January.

“As essential workers who have risked ourselves and our loved ones for the last year, we should not be left without healthcare,” the statement reads.

The hourly raise last year came as a result of a Trader Joe’s Union Coalition’s petition which demanded hazard pay and guaranteed wages if the store closed. More than 21,000 people signed on to that petition.

The increases were temporary, though, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that companies will want to get back to normal wages as the pandemic ebbs. With increases in grocery sales, while customers were locked down at home and cooking their own meals more, the grocery store companies could use increased profits to increase hourly wages. However, with restaurants opening back up, those increased profits may be on a downturn. Many retailers with essential workers increased wages by calling it hero pay to incentivize hourly workers to continue to show up for work. Hero pay quietly disappeared with companies as time went on. The pay increases were not meant to be permanent – it was a gesture, a lifeline to keep employees afloat as necessary.

In February 2021, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to give grocery workers a $5 per hour raise. The raise was called hero pay but businesses warned it may cause some to close which results in workers out of jobs. It too was labeled as a temporary raise by “grocery and drug retail stores in unincorporated parts of the county, a 120-day pay bump that county officials say will benefit about 2,000 workers.” The business owners’ concerns about store closures came true for some. Especially in California, grocery store chains have had to close some stores because of city mandates on wages.

It begs the question – why do city councils feel entitled to dictate what a company pays its employees? For example, California grocery store workers make well above standard minimum wages. That is why the local mandates only applied to larger retailers. Kroger, however, wasn’t able to meet the mandates and was forced to close some stores. That leaves people unemployed and customers without nearby grocery stores. Good job, everyone.

The notice posted on Reddit shows that Trader Joe’s is making adjustments now that the urgency of the pandemic has eased. Wages will reflect that and the company is working on insurance benefits, too. This all sounds like standard business procedure. And, completely predictable.