A Trader Joe’s employee called for stronger coronavirus measures. The company fired him.

Posted on March 1, 2021 by

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By Brittany Shammas and Hannah Knowles, The Washington Post March 1, 2021 | 9:33 AM

The Trader Joe’s employee appealed directly to the CEO.

In a letter citing a medical journal and experts who study respiratory transmission of the coronavirus, Ben Bonnema called on the grocery chain’s head, Dan Bane, to adopt more-stringent safety protocols. Among his requests: improving filtration, requiring masks without exception and adopting a “three-strikes” policy for removing uncooperative customers from stores.

“We put our lives on the line everyday by showing up to work,” wrote Bonnema, who is a “crew member” at a New York location. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.”

The company responded soon after, he says. It fired him.

trader joe’s just fired me for sending this letter to the ceo, saying i don’t share the company values. i guess advocating for a safer workplace isn’t a company value? pic.twitter.com/3TKi5B8HSJ

— Ben Bonnema (@BenBonnema) February 26, 2021

Bonnema’s story went viral over the weekend after he posted about it on Twitter, prompting outrage and threats to boycott the chain.

Some of the experts to whom his letter referred, who this month wrote to the Biden administration urging that steps be taken to combat airborne transmission in workplaces, said it reinforced the need for action.

“We wrote this letter to protect people like Ben,” tweeted Kimberly Prather, a professor at the University of California at San Diego and one of 13 experts who wrote to the White House. “His letter is an excellent science-based request. We have been shopping there for 20 yrs. We will stop until Trader Joe’s takes this seriously.”

I am one of the scientists that sent the letter to the Biden administration asking them to better protect workers against aerosol transmission.

This employee was fired for correctly asking for those protections.

Shame on Trader Joe’s. And on @CDCgov‘s inaction that allows this. https://t.co/oeRJZdvo6I

— Jose-Luis Jimenez (@jljcolorado) February 27, 2021

If true, this is why it’s so important for CDC to update its guidance and recommendations on transmission of COVID-19. We need strong risk mitigation in all indoor spaces where people work, shop, meet, and play. https://t.co/Ur80WIfbBS

— Linsey Marr (@linseymarr) February 27, 2021

A spokeswoman for the grocery chain, Kenya Friend-Daniel, said in an email to The Washington Post that “misinformation” was circulating about the circumstances of Bonnema’s termination. She said he was fired “because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers.” She added, “Nothing is more important at Trader Joe’s than the safety of our Crew Members and customers.”

The company’s coronavirus safety measures include requiring face coverings, providing employees with gloves and masks, pre-shift wellness checks, enhanced cleanings and increased sick time, according to its website. Advertisement

But Bonnema, who declined an interview request, said in his letter to Bane that additional measures were needed. He wrote that it was not enough to exceed standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying the agency had “downplayed the dangers of aerosols since the pandemic’s origins.” The CDC for months went back and forth on the role the tiny droplets play in transmitting the virus, even as evidence grew that they were a factor.

Trader Joe’s should follow the advice of scientists like those who sent the letter to the Biden administration, Bonnema wrote. He called for the CEO to enhance HVAC systems in stores and set occupancy limits based on carbon dioxide levels. He suggested that no one be allowed inside without a mask, and that the chain meets the Americans With Disabilities Act’s accommodation requirement by offering to shop for those who cannot or will not wear masks.

In calling for a “three-strikes” rule, Bonnema wrote that he was “shouted and sworn at by a customer who would not wear his mask above his nose, despite Mates already asking him to do so.” The customer was allowed to continue shopping.

Bonnema wrote that he was contacting Bane directly because “these changes can only come with your approval.”

The result was a termination letter. The Feb. 26 document, which Bonnema shared on Twitter, said his recommendations went against company values.

“In a recent email, you suggest adopting a ‘3 strike’ policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask,” the letter said. “These suggestions are not in line with our core Values. In addition, you state that Trader Joe’s is not ‘showing up for us’ without adopting your policies. It is clear that you do not understand our Values. As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe’s.”

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Posted in: Family safety