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Morning Spew

It’s Thursday, and You Won’t Believe Why Trader Joe’s Shut Down Their Wine Store

Heading into the busiest stretch of the year, Trader Joe’s closed its only wine shop. Workers say it’s union-busting.

6:33 AM EDT on August 18, 2022

A summer day in Bryant Park. (Hell Gate)

A week ago, workers at the Trader Joe’s wine shop on 14th Street woke up to shocking news: The grocery chain’s only wine store in New York City was abruptly closed overnight, and the workers were given no guarantees that they would be transferred to another Trader Joe's. For many other New Yorkers, the news was also a surprise—the discount wine store had always been popular, and with college students returning in a few weeks, it seemed like a strange time to pull the plug.

Now comes a possible explanation for why Trader Joe’s would take away our sweet, discount vino. According to HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson, the grocery chain shut the store down right before workers were planning to unionize.

Robert “Rab” Bradlea, who worked at the store for five years, told the outlet that a union drive was almost ready to file with the National Labor Relations Board for an election, and had a majority of support from the store’s staff. 

“They’re hoping this dissuades other workers from doing the same thing we’ve done,” Bradlea told HuffPost. 

The workers were organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and had hoped to go public this week. Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost. Hell Gate has also reached out to Trader Joe’s for comment. In a statement, UFCW told Hell Gate that it's "ready to pursue all legal action, including filing charges against Trader Joe’s for their shameless union busting."

The unionization effort at the TJ’s wine shop is not alone—workers at two other Trader Joe’s stores, one in Hadley, Massachusetts and one in Minneapolis, have already voted to unionize, and other stores across the country haved filed to hold elections. As Starbucks workers across the country have unionized at an astonishing clip, the workers at Trader Joe’s, another corporation that long-prided itself on “an environment that is safe, welcoming, inclusive, and respectful for all” appear to be getting in on the action. 

But it’s funny what happens to those companies that proclaim they have long been supportive of their workers, when those workers join a union. In Astoria, Starbucks fired a union organizer and barista in early July, just days after that store’s workers won a union election. Starbucks told Hell Gate the worker was fired for “failing to uphold our Mission & Values,” while the worker, Austin Locke, told us that these reasons were “baseless.” 

For now, Trader Joe’s has offered to help workers find “opportunities” at other stores. Labor law allows an owner to shut down their business if their employees unionize, but they are supposed to shut down the entire operation (just ask DNAinfo Chicago about all that). Is what Trader Joe's did legal? 

Even if it's not, these cases usually take months if not years to go through the NLRB process before any penalties can be levied. That dusty bottle of Charles Shaw you've saved for a desperate evening? It may taste a lot like union-busting.

Would you like some more cheese with that vino? Here’s what’s up in the Big Cheddar:

  • The mayor is set to make an “outdoor-dining related” announcement this morning in Brooklyn, weeks after a group of anti-dining shed scolds sued to end the program entirely. Those same groups are behind a separate lawsuit that has put the rule-making for the permanent outdoor dining program on hold, meaning they’ve only prolonged a temporary situation they’ve hated even more. The announcement might be related to enforcement of abandoned or dilapidated sheds that are now weathering their third summer (for again, what was supposed to be a temporary program). Anyways, Hell Gate has an explainer here.

  • Speaking of outdoor dining, New York City is not alone in hullabaloo regarding public space and restaurants. In the ritzy, and never, ever, over-the-top Hamptons, one restaurateur is calling a recent crackdown on outdoor dining by town police akin to the “Soviet Fucking Union,” after they threated to take his sound equipment. The reliable New York Post, who specializes in poor-bashing, but also in giving the aggrieved wealthy juuuust enough rope, has the story.

  • Jollibee, the outstanding Filipino fast-food chain, is opening its flagship store in Times Square today. Anticipation couldn’t be higher, as the countdown clock they’ve set up inches ever closer to zero. (Look out for a Jollibee Times Square scene report!)
  • Allen Weisselberg, a longtime executive at the Trump Organization, pled guilty this morning in Manhattan Criminal Court to conspiring to keep some compensation at the organization off-the-books, lessening his tax payments as well as those of others. As part of the plea deal, Weisselberg won’t agree to testify directly against former President Trump, but will be a witness in an upcoming trial against the entire Trump Organization this fall.
  • There was no drink of the summer this year, reports Grub Street. Drink experts will renew efforts over the long winter to try to rectify the situation, which is frankly unacceptable.
  • The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has made a neat little interactive map of all of the MTA’s 20-year needs. The map shows projects the MTA has identified as necessary, in a just world, but which will have to be extremely narrowed down before any are broken ground on, because we live in an unjust world. Perchance to dream of the restoration of the Long Island Rail Road Elmhurst Station!

  • Weekend Rockaway surf report: Sunday’s looking like the day if you’re trying to catch some waves, with waves coming in at a very fun three-to-four feet, and winds not providing much chop.

  • And finally, Ryder, the carriage horse who collapsed on city streets last week, has literally been taken “upstate” to a “farm,” to get care. We’ll update when we see proof of life. 

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