Lessons from Trader Joe’s Communications Crisis

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Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

The grocery store chain Trader Joe’s recently received public backlash after a former employee in New York City claims that his position was terminated after he sent a letter to the company’s leaders with suggestions on how to improve the store’s safety protocols during the pandemic. The claim was made in a thread on Twitter and quickly spiraled into members of the public calling to boycott the company over the incident, which went viral.

The former employee Ben Bonnema had tweeted a photo of the letter he had sent to the company’s CEO, Dan Bane, with suggestions on how the safety protocols for the Covid-19 virus could be improved in the New York City store. He had also cited guidance from a group of scientists that had made similar suggestions to President Biden himself and used their suggestions as a guide for his own.

Among the suggestions were mask mandates within the store for both employees and customers, limit the number of people in the store, as well as better air filtration systems. Allegedly, the company provided a response to his letter, by terminating his position. Bonnema also shared his termination letter on the social media platform, showing that the company stated that some of his suggestions weren’t in line with the chain’s core values.

Additionally, a spokesperson for the chain had stated that the employee had been fired due to the disrespect he had been showing towards the consumers in the store. The spokesperson also stated that the company would never terminate employment due to safety or health concerns and measures.

However, when Bonnema released both letters, he received an overwhelming amount of support from the public, and one of the scientists behind the original recommendations that we’re sent to the President asked the federal agency OSHA to investigate the termination. Another one of the group of scientists also expressed his support with the letter and joined in the calls to boycott the chain.

Throughout the pandemic, the employees at the chain had been working in dangerous conditions. Furthermore, two maskless men ended up assaulting 10 employees at a Trader Joe’s store last summer. Previous to that event, another store location actually stayed open despite learning that one of the employees had tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

In fact, throughout the pandemic, the chain store had been facing various mounting situations that led to the current PR crisis. Situations ranged from an employee having their position terminated after wearing a mask before the mask mandates, to other unsafe working conditions for employees at various store locations.

All of the mounting evidence shows that the leaders and stakeholders at the company might be out of touch and lacking communication with employees. That lack of communication has led to the company facing a public boycott and a PR crisis that might take time to recover from completely.


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