Amidst Criticism, a Trader Joe’s Exec Explains How the Chain Is Handling the Pandemic

updated Apr 10, 2020
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Credit: Roman Tiraspolsky

When a new episode of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast drops, that usually means we’re going to get a sneak peek of brand-new items headed to shelves in the near future. These days, however, it’s exciting to simply find any items on shelves at all. So, when Episode 23 went live last night, we knew this one would be a little different — and it is. In light of recent criticism from Trader Joe’s patrons and employees for the chain’s handling of coronavirus precautions, the podcast’s hosts, Tara Miller and Matt Sloan, spoke with Jon Basalone, president of stores at Trader Joe’s, to clear the air. (We’ve seen said criticism on Reddit and in the media.)

Skeptical that this episode would just be a PR stunt to address recent bad headlines (because simply thanking their employees for their hard work isn’t enough), we listened carefully to find out what TJ’s corporate is actually doing to make stores safer for shoppers and, equally as important, crew members.

Here’s what Basalone had to say.

1. They’re increasing employee wages.

According to Basalone, “Our Crew Members do make good wages compared to the rest of the industry.” However, in times like these, whatever those wages are, are certainly not enough. As a response to the increase in sales in recent weeks, the chain encouraged stores to create a bonus pool to be divided amongst employees by hours worked. The minimum increase is an extra $2 per hour and, in some places, “upwards of over $3 an hour.” There is not an end date on what they’re calling “thank you pay,” either. “We didn’t put an end date on it because we want to continue to pay this to our Crew Members as long as [necessary],” says Basalone.

2. They’re doing their part to encourage social distancing.

“Crew members at each store are helping customers form … an appropriately spread-out line, and allowing a certain number of people to come shop at a given time, and controlling the flow into the store,” says Matt Sloan. This is to limit customer and employee contact and create the safest shopping experience possible right now.

3. They’ve designated a senior citizen shopping hour in the mornings.

After government agencies recommended designating an hour for senior citizens to have space to shop, Trader Joe’s has made the first hour after opening “for senior customers or customers that might need special assistance while shopping. That first hour, whether it’s eight to nine or nine to ten, is for that group of customers,” says Basalone.

4. They’re cleaning stores even more than recommended.

Trader Joe’s is making a point to thoroughly deep clean stores to mitigate infection risks. “We are going above and beyond the recommendations of the local health organizations and the national health organizations as well. If we have a Crew Member who tests positive for COVID-19 or even without a test, but they’re given that diagnosis and they were last in the store within a 72-hour period, we will close the store. And while that 72-hour window lapses, do a thorough cleaning of the store.” Note that when stores do close for cleaning, workers are still compensated for scheduled shifts.

They’re also taking extra precautions in areas that are COVID-19 hotspots: “In some of the more harder-hit areas where we have stores — New York, Connecticut, Long Island, New Jersey — we’ve started a rotational cleaning where we close the store, clean it, reopen it whether there was a case or not.”

5. Crew Members are going above and beyond.

You may have also seen some heartwarming videos of Trader Joe’s employees playing instruments or hosting TJ’s trivia for shoppers standing in line (waiting to enter the store) — and all the credit goes to the Crew Members. “We did not tell Jess in Long Island to start playing the accordion for everybody in line, right?” Jon said. “We have 50,000 Crew Members, but it’s 50,000 individuals working for us and they all bring something unique to not only the job but to the store, the neighborhood, the environment where they’re working.”

Have you shopped at a Trader Joe’s recently? How did you think they handled the situation?