Former Trader Joe’s employee Ben Bonnema claims he was fired from the store at 670 Columbus Avenue, between 92nd and 93rd Streets, after sending a letter to the company’s CEO, Dan Bane, recommending working condition improvements to better protect workers from COVID-19.
In the letter, Bonnema cites a NYTimes article about scientists calling on the C.D.C. to set air standards for workplaces, as well as a summary by the Healthcare Infection Society regarding the airborne transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome related to the coronavirus.
The changes Bonnema asked for included upgrades to the store’s HVAC system, an occupancy limit based on the level of C02 in the store, and stricter face mask requirements for customers – with a three-strike rule for those who don’t follow COVID-19 protocols. “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.”
In return, Bonnema says he received a termination letter and uploaded it to Twitter. The letter addressed to the former employee reads as follows:
“In a recent email, you suggest adopting a ‘3 strike’ policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accomodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask. These suggestions are not in line with our 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.”
There’s a history of Trader Joe’s employees at this location, known as Store 545, speaking out about poor conditions leaving employees in a state of terror, as reported by Gothamist. “It clearly has been circulating within the crew,” said an employee in November, who asked to withhold their name for fear of reprisal. “If I were in charge, the only morally defensible option would be to shut down the store, get everyone get rapid tested and only let people back who get negative tests.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told Business Insider that they “have never, and would never, terminate a Crew Member’s employment for raising safety concerns,” adding that “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.”