Trader Joe’s is reinstating an employee who was fired after criticizing the company’s COVID safety policies to the CEO, The Daily Beast has confirmed.
On Wednesday evening, the popular grocery chain offered to reinstate Ben Bonnema, an employee at one of the grocery chain’s New York stores who wrote a letter to CEO Dan Bane admonishing the company for not taking adequate safety measures to keep workers safe from COVID-19. His initial firing went viral on social media and received national news attention.
“It’s been a stressful week since then, but it makes sense that they offered to reinstate because it was a completely unlawful termination,” Bonnema said in a brief telephone call with The Daily Beast on Thursday.
Late last month, the grocery store employee posted to Twitter that he was fired for sending the letter demanding better air-filtration systems in Trader Joe’s stores, a limit on the number of customers in stores, and a requirement for customers to wear masks. Bonnema also posted a note from the grocery chain that directly attributed his termination at an Upper West Side store to his letter.
The tweets quickly gained traction online. A scientist who Bonnema cited in his letter tweeted his support for the ousted Trader Joe’s staffer, and the former head of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration shared Bonnema’s story, saying it was a “violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to retaliate against a worker for raising safety concerns.”
Bonnema told The Daily Beast he and another crew member had several discussions with management at their store to discuss air-filtration measures, but decided to write an email to the CEO after they felt their concerns were not being addressed.
Three days after writing the letter, Bonnema said, he was pulled aside during a shift and told he was being fired for the suggestions he made in his note, which managers said did not align with the company’s “core values.”
In an initial statement after Bonnema was fired, a company spokesperson denied the decision was related to his letter to the CEO, instead attributing the termination to “disrespect he showed toward our customers.”
But on Thursday, Bonnema’s lawyer Ben Dictor said the company’s quick reinstatement showed the spokesperson’s statement—which appeared in many national outlets including CNN and The Washington Post—was ultimately false. (Dictor is a labor attorney who also represents the NewsGuild, a media workers’ union that represents staffers at many outlets, including The Daily Beast’s editorial union).
“While we are pleased that Mr. Bonnema has been rightfully reinstated, we will continue to take all necessary legal action to repair his reputation that has been disparaged by the company through false accusations that my client engaged in misconduct,” Dictor said. “We are also committed to ensuring that no essential workers of Trader Joe’s face any further retaliation for raising concerns about their working conditions.”
Bonnema said he is still waiting to hear if OSHA will be hearing his concerns about improving air-filtration systems in Trader Joe’s stores while the coronavirus continues to threaten unvaccinated grocery workers and employees. But he’s not wasting any time returning to work: Bonnema said he plans to be back on Monday.