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caption: Trader Joe's employees Erin Or (left) and Tre Scott (right) pose for a photo in front of the currently closed Capitol Hill store on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
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Trader Joe's employees Erin Or (left) and Tre Scott (right) pose for a photo in front of the currently closed Capitol Hill store on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Seattle grocery store workers demand employers get behind Black Lives Matter

Seattle Trader Joe’s employees are pushing for a statement and policy changes in support of Black Lives Matter.

Whole Foods employees say they've been punished for wearing Black Lives Matter masks.

Trader Joe’s workers stood together —yet feet apart — on Thursday, in front of the Capitol Hill store wearing Black Lives Matter face masks and their red store name-tags.

Employee Tre Scott, one of seven Black employees at the store, said he’s worked through Seattle’s heaviest snow days and the pandemic.

“In that time, I’ve had the eyes, the questions, and the whispers of so many non-Black people and so many white people sear into my flesh with hollow empathy, and pity, and so much ignorance.”

Yet, Scott continued “championing Trader Joe’s,” he said.

“I thought — and still want you to be — the company that you say you are.”

Thursday morning, workers from Trader Joe’s Capitol Hill and Whole Foods’ Westlake store demanded their employers do more to support Black Lives Matter, both through public statements and internal policy changes.

They’re demanding that Trader Joe’s issue a statement affirming support of Black Lives Matter, and improve the work environment with various changes. They're calling for mandatory anti-racism training, more diverse hiring, and greater communication and transparency around disciplinary action.

Employees are also demanding that no retaliation occur against those who are speaking out, and that private security contracts be terminated.

Trader Joe’s employee Erin Or read the employees’ list of five detailed demands and her own prepared remarks.

“It’s not too much to ask for a company to train its management on something as basic as racial bias — especially in a neighborhood as diverse as Capitol Hill,” she said. “I urge our corporate leadership to take action, and not stand by as its employees ask and demand their support.”

Or said, as a Black employee, she's been subject to greater scrutiny and more disciplinary action than her white coworkers.

In a statement, Trader Joe’s spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel did not directly respond to the employees’ specific demands presented on Thursday.

The statement said the company “deeply understands the value of listening” and that leadership is “very responsive” to employees' concerns.

“Over the past few weeks we have reinforced our commitment to racial equity and justice,” Friend-Daniel said. “We have expressed to crew members that we have no tolerance for racism, discrimination, harassment or intimidation; that we stand together with and share support for our Black crew members, customers and communities; and that we remain committed to listening, caring, acting and continuously improving.”

Some of those improvements include a new senior-level position managing “diversity and inclusion,” a new $500,000 fund to support scholarships and paying student debt of Black employees and their families, and a move toward having more products in Trader Joe’s stores that are produced by Black-owned businesses.

The Trader Joe’s employees organized Thursday's press conference nearly two weeks after they left work early to participate in a Black Lives Matter march. A sign appeared on the front door of the Capitol Hill store saying it was closed “indefinitely.”

On Thursday, a sign on the front door read “Temporary Closure,” and explained that the store had closed on June 12 due to insufficient staffing but would reopen July 1.

“We are taking the time to execute a remodel plan to address safety and security concerns that have developed over the last year,” the sign reads. The sounds of electric tools could be heard through the closed doors.

Store neighbor, Aude Puyfoulhoux isn’t buying the explanation for the closure because she saw workers outside the store the evening it was closed when she was walking her dog, Apollo, she said.

“I saw them all outside having a meeting being like, ‘OK, what do we do now?’” she said. “I don’t think it’s believable that the store was truly closing for construction for three weeks without letting any of their employees know.”

Friend-Daniel said the “Captain” at the Capitol Hill store has been in frequent contact with employees informing them of the progress of the renovations and scheduling their shifts.

caption: Whole Foods employee Camille Tucker-Tolbert poses wearing the mask she was told was against company dress code. She says she and her coworkers are now facing disciplinary action as a result of wearing the masks at work on June 19 — the day of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
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Whole Foods employee Camille Tucker-Tolbert poses wearing the mask she was told was against company dress code. She says she and her coworkers are now facing disciplinary action as a result of wearing the masks at work on June 19 — the day of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Whole Foods workers are also demanding changes from their employer.

Camille Tucker-Tolbert works in the prepared foods department of Whole Foods at Westlake.

She and her coworkers have been disciplined for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks at work on June 19, the day of the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery, she said.

“They directly told me at first that it just wasn’t conducive towards a pleasant shopping environment, that they had gotten one complaint from a customer that said they were uncomfortable,” Tucker-Tolbert said.

Shortly after, she said she was told that it went against dress code policy banning logos and slogans that are not affiliated with the company.

A Whole Foods spokesperson confirmed that on June 19, six employees were not following dress code. She said all were offered new face masks, and employees can’t work until they follow the dress code.