Workers at the Trader Joe's Wine Shop in Manhattan are trying to unionize. A small organizing committee met regularly to discuss strategy around building support to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union and they planned to go public with their efforts the week of August 15.

The popular wine shop in New York City was abruptly closed by Trader Joe's in the early morning hours of August 11.

Robert "Rab" Bradlea, a worker at the store and member of the committee, was unaware of the store's closing until he received text messages. Bradlea said he saw only one logical reason for it.

The Trader Joe's veteran said that they were hoping this would discourage other workers from doing the same thing.

The committee believed there were at least 22 yes votes among the 30 or so workers they expected would be eligible to unionize, according to Bradlea. They were going to have supporters sign union cards this week and submit them to the National Labor Relations Board by Friday.

Trader Joe's did not respond to questions about the closing.

In a notice posted through its internal human-resources portal, the company said it was time to explore another location where it could sell wine in New York State. The space that was closed would be used to improve the operations of the grocery store. The sudden closing of the wine shop surprised its loyal clientele.

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

- Robert "Rab" Bradlea, employee at the Trader Joe's Wine Shop

Jonathan Reuning, who has been with Trader Joe's for five years, said the store's sudden demise was out of character for the company.

Reuning said that the union effort should be stopped before it begins. The regulars are angry. It makes us look terrible. It makes the company look bad to let their employees go without notice.

The UFCW said it was ready to file unfair labor practice charges against the company.

If the company retaliates against workers involved in organizing efforts, UFCW will aggressively pursue all legal options, and if Trader Joe's fails to meet their commitments to these workers, UFCW will make every effort to assist workers in getting jobs in union stores.

Trader Joe's is now dealing with union campaigns in multiple states.
Trader Joe's is now dealing with union campaigns in multiple states.

The notice to crew members stated that they would be paid through August 28, and that management would be in touch about the transfer to other stores. Workers from the store said they expected more.

They want Trader Joe's to open again. On a petition they have created, the workers say the store was heading into what they say was the busiest stretch of time, the return of students and staff to the store's landlord, New York University.

The company decided to rent an empty space during their most profitable months.

Anthony Small said he assumed they got wind of what they were doing. They knew more about what we were doing than they thought. It doesn't make sense.

The way in which the wine shop was closed was very disappointing to Small, who enjoyed his eight years at the store.

He said that the family atmosphere was not there when it came to it.

After working at a Trader Joe's location in New York for three years, Maura McHugh went back to work at the wine shop. McHugh said in an interview with HuffPost that she was done with the crying stage, but her voice began to crack as she talked about what happened.

According to a company line, integrity is the number one value when it comes to closing a store. I don't know what to think. Someone made a very, very bad decision with this, even if it isn't about union- busting.

McHugh said organizers had assumed she was loyal to Trader Joe's and had "drank the Kool-Aid." She said she would support the union. The intention has been reinforced by the closing.

If we'd been in a union, this wouldn't have happened.

It is not possible for a company to legally close a workplace because of union activity. It can be hard to prove that anti-union animus was a motivating factor. The legal process for such a case could take years, with workers moving on to other jobs in the meantime.

“If we had been in a union, this would have never happened.”

- Maura McHugh, employee at the Trader Joe's Wine Shop

If a workplace is closed, workers in other places will be less likely to unionize if they think it was a factor in the company's decision. Starbucks has been accused of shuttering stores on both a temporary and permanent basis in order to cool workers on unions. The labor board has filed complaints against Starbucks over some of the allegations.

Trader Joe's is facing a surge of union organizing. The stores in Massachusetts and Minneapolis voted overwhelmingly to join Trader Joe's United, a new union that is not affiliated with a labor group. The UFCW submitted a petition for an election at a Trader Joe's location in Boulder, Colorado.

Trader Joe's has not closed those stores. Bradlea said it would be less disruptive to close a wine store than it would be to close a grocery store. One of the company's strongest markets is the New York area.

He said that it would make sense that they have a vested interest in the region not being unionized.

Many workers from the store are unsure of their future with the company after the store closes. Bradlea dropped his hours to part-time when he started organizing, so he could survive without Trader Joe's. Both Reuning and McHugh have full-time jobs and want to find new ones.

Reuning thinks his manager will help him find a new place to live. The closing has made him want to form a union at the company.

He said the fix was having to listen to people. Trader Joe's likes to be run by the top. They lose sight of the humanity of the people that are working there and the effects their small decisions have on a family, on health, on a paycheck.