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This Grocery Store Keeps Facing Backlash For Its COVID-19 Policies

A year into the pandemic, this beloved chain is being criticized for allegedly denying more safety rules.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Trader Joe's is under fire for allegedly terminating an employee who sent a letter about the grocery store's COVID-19 safety protocols to the company's CEO. The incident is resurrecting previous instances of backlash the beloved chain has faced due to its handling of the pandemic.

Ben Bonnema, a former employee of a Trader Joe's location in New York City, sent a letter to CEO Dan Bane in which he suggested several safety improvements the company could make in order to better protect workers and customers, he shared on Twitter. In the letter, Bonnema urged for air filtration changes (citing a recent plea from 13 scientists to the Biden administration to update COVID-19 guidelines in order to place a higher emphasis on the spread of the virus through aerosols). Bonnema also proposed store capacity limits, a mandatory mask mandate, and a "3 strike" policy in removing uncooperative customers. Bonnema described one customer who shouted and swore at him after he reminded him to wear his mask over the nose.

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In response, Trader Joe's issued an incident report on Feb. 26 (which Bonnema also shared on Twitter) to Bonnema, in which a supervisor writes that Bonnema's "3 strike" policy is not in line with the company's core values, and therefore, Trader Joe's is not comfortable with employing him.

Trader Joe's spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel wrote in an email to Newsweek about the event: "During his short tenure with Trader Joe's, this Crew Member's suggestions were listened to, and appropriately addressed… Store leadership terminated this Crew Member's employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers. We have never, and would never, terminate a Crew Member's employment for raising safety concerns."

Eat This, Not That! has also reached out to Trader Joe's for a comment.

The news reportedly has some calling for a boycott of the grocery store on Twitter. But, this is not the first time Trader Joe's has made the news because of COVID-19. In November 2020, the company disclosed 1,250 positive coronavirus cases among crew members as of Oct. 31. Of those, 95% completed a quarantine period, recovered, and chose to go back to work, but COVID-19 was a contributing factor in the death of two employees. Trader Joe's initial response to the pandemic was criticized by employees as being unsafe and scary.

Since then, the grocery store chain has pledged to allow all 50,000+ of its workers paid time off to get vaccinated and has consistently updated the COVID-19 Policy page on its website. The page currently says that all customers must wear a face covering while shopping, all employees are given gloves to wear, and more.

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Amanda McDonald
Amanda is a staff writer for Eat This, Not That!. Read more