By STACY CHEN, ABC News
(SEATTLE) — A Traders Joe’s store in Seattle has been closed temporarily, and some workers says it’s related to employees’ support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On June 11, a group of employees at the Trader Joe’s Capitol Hill store informed their managers that they would be attending a Black Lives Matter protest the next day, which they were told would be an excused absence, according to Peter Strand, a crew member at the store and an employee-appointed spokesperson.
Due to limited staff, the store had an early closure on that Friday, Strand said. But upon learning this, Trader Joe’s corporate office subsequently decided that location would be “closed indefinitely, effective immediately,” according to Strand.
“I think we were all shocked there has been no prior indication that a closure was a possibility,” Strand told ABC News.
Dismayed with the sudden announcement, the group of employees reached out to the community for a protest of their own, Strand said.
On Sunday, the group posted a petition to save the store, and within 24 hours it had garnered more than 19,000 signatures.
Some employees at the store believe the store’s abrupt closure on the day that dozens of its workers protested in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was a deliberate retaliation from the company.
“We believe that our community deserves to know that Trader Joe’s corporate took this action in response to our participation in [the] march,” Strand said. “That was a clear tipping point,”
But Trader Joe’s spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel told ABC News in a statement Monday that they closed the Capitol Hill location early last Friday due to the lack of crew members and that it will only be a temporary closure.
“During this temporary closure, we are taking the time to execute a remodel plan to address safety and security concerns that have developed over the last year,” the statement said. “We will reopen the store as soon as these construction projects are completed, and it is our hope that we can welcome back our customers in the next week or two.”
Friend-Daniel also added that Trader Joe’s will continue paying their crew members for their scheduled shifts during this time.
When ABC News pressed Trader Joe’s about the employees’ claims, the company did not provide a response.
Staff at the store said they received that same announcement on Monday via their scheduling app.
“That is a smokescreen — we were not told anything about a proposed remodel until today, we were not told anything about extended closures,” Strand told ABC News. ‘That is them regaining control of the narrative because they are feeling the pressure.”
Most of the crew members there work paycheck to paycheck, said Strand.
“Many of us [are] working without health insurance while having steady exposure to the public,” he said.
Prior to the temporary closure, employees at the Capitol Hill location were organizing to fight for a living wage, health insurance, hazard pay and other protective measures against the coronavirus, Strand said.
Earlier this month, Trader Joe’s issued a statement in support of its black crew members and customers, echoing the sentiments of many companies who have affirmed their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“At Trader Joe’s we uphold the human rights and civil rights of all of our Crew Members and customers and communities. We have no tolerance for racism, discrimination, harassment or intimidation,” the statement said in part.
Strand called the statement vague and disingenuous, and said he has not seen the company take actions that tangibly support the movement or black crew members.
“This labor struggle is not just about getting our jobs back — it’s about loudly and unequivocally denouncing corporate anti-blackness,” Strand said.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.