- Trader Joe’s rehired an employee who said he was fired after asking for more COVID-19 protections.
- Bonnema’s letter to the CEO was shared widely on Twitter and inspired a boycott.
- Retail workers tasked with enforcing mask rules have risked dangerous confrontations in the last year.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Trader Joe’s on Wednesday rehired an employee who said he was fired in February after requesting increased COVID-19 safety protections in a letter to the company’s CEO, The Daily Beast first reported.
Ben Bonnema’s account of his firing from a New York City Trader Joe’s store led to calls for a boycott of the grocer’s more than 500 US locations. Scientists cited in Bonnema’s letter also came to his defense as news of his firing made waves online.
“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 told The Daily Beast Thursday following his reinstatement.
Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
In his letter to CEO Dan Bane, Bonnema outlined several changes he wanted the store to enact to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect workers, including increased ventilation and limited store capacity based on air quality. At the time, Trader Joe’s told Insider Bonnema’s account of his firing was “misinformation.”
“Store leadership terminated this Crew Member’s employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers,” Trader Joe’s said.
Bonnema shared his letter on Twitter in February, and it quickly went viral.
—Ben Bonnema (@BenBonnema) February 26, 2021
“We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work,” Bonnema wrote. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.” He said he was fired for the letter, and shared his termination letter on Twitter. The letter he posted said he did not share the grocery chain’s core values.
“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,” Bonnema’s lawyer Ben Dictor told The Daily Beast. “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.”
Now, Bonnema says that he is waiting to hear from OSHA about his concerns, and plans to be back at work on Monday.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, US retail workers have been tasked with the job of enforcing piecemeal mask policies. Employees were left in the difficult position of not having official mask policies, or not being allowed to ask customers to mask up.
Some customers have refused to wear masks for political reasons, and some encounters have turned violent, with workers shot or assaulted for asking customers to wear masks. Of stores that did not let employees enforce mask rules, spokespeople cited concerns for employee safety. Despite being hailed as heroes, protections for retail employees remain weak in the US, and activists are urging governments and companies to do more.