Trader Joe’s grocery store has been accused of firing four of six employees who signed separate affidavits alleging the company broke more than a dozen laws in its treatment of unvaccinated workers.
“They’re being fired for using me as a spokesperson,” Health Freedom for Humanity (HFFH) President Jeff Witzeman, who was granted limited power of attorney to represent the six employees, told The Epoch Times.
“We’re going to create a wrongful termination lawsuit for everyone that they fire. They’ve already fired four. If they fire all six, then all six of those are going to be together suing Trader Joe’s for wrongful termination.”
The affidavits make a “demand for correction and investigation by the State of California,” Witzeman said, and they cite alleged violations of constitutional laws, including the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy, and other civil and penal codes including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The documents state: “By denying employment to an employee who is not wearing a mask, has not received the Emergency Use Authorized COVID shot, or refused Emergency Use Authorized PCR testing for either medical or religious reasons, you are in violation of at least eight federal and seven state laws.”
They also state: “No claim of an ‘emergency’ or ‘executive orders’ or ‘health orders’ or ‘city ordinances’ excuses you from violating the laws set forth in this notice.”
The affidavits were sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Trader Joe’s registered agent Paracorp Inc. by certified mail on Aug. 2. Copies were also sent to Trader Joe’s executives, including CEO Dan Bane, President of Stores Jon Basalone, and Customer Relations/Communications Director Nicole High, Witzeman said.
Trader Joe’s hasn’t responded to a number of inquiries from The Epoch Times since mid-July. The privately held neighborhood grocery store chain owns more than 500 stores—more than 135 in California alone—and employs more than 50,000 people nationwide.
The company has two weeks to respond to the affidavits “and basically change their ways or face punishment,” Witzeman said.
The Trader Joe’s employees say they contacted HFFH claiming their constitutional rights were violated and they were being coerced by managers to either wear a mask and get vaccinated or be terminated, with no medical or religious exemptions granted.
Witzeman said he contacted Trader Joe’s several times and offered HFFH’s assistance to “help them satisfy the health department, as well as employee’s rights” without breaking any laws.
“I’m not opposed to the vaccine,” Witzeman said. “I’m opposed to mandating the vaccine and denying people the freedom to choose what’s right for them.”
On June 17, the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued new guidelines stating, “Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees not to wear face coverings indoors, but must document their vaccination status.”
Witzeman claimed the state department is violating the law if its “guidelines” are taken as mandates.
“We are calling their bluff,” Witzeman said. “We are back to the bluff that has been played over the last year and a quarter that the health department, the governor, or OSHA can make law. They cannot. They can only give guidance. And that’s fine, but we still have the option to refuse anything they say regarding emergency use devices.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use authorization (EUA) but hasn’t yet fully approved them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on its website the vaccines met the FDA’s “rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality” needed for EUA only.
The FDA is authorized under federal law to allow EUAs “when there are no adequate and approved available options.” Currently, “the FDA cannot wait for all the evidence needed for full FDA approval,” according to a recent FDA informational video.
Despite a company-wide gag order that prevents employees from speaking to the media about policies, five Trader Joe’s workers told The Epoch Times in separate interviews that company policies don’t allow religious and medical exemptions for masks and vaccines and infringe on their constitutional rights and individual liberties.
Contrary to official company policy, the culture at many Trader Joe’s stores leans left politically and conservative-minded employees are often intimidated and shamed for their beliefs, the employees said.
Worker 1: Nathan Glazebrook
Nathan Glazebrook, the sole provider for his wife and two children, is one of the Trader Joe’s employees who was fired.
Glazebrook worked at a store on California’s Central Coast and told The Epoch Times he made several unsuccessful attempts to initiate dialogue about masks with the human resources department.
“I’m pretty educated on this topic, and I want to have a conversation, but they won’t have it,” he said. “I’ve been shut down every time and so I kind of accepted my fate that I would not have a choice when it came to a facial covering being mandated to maintain my employment.”
When the statewide mask mandate was lifted in June for the public, Glazebrook assumed the rule would apply to everyone, including vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. But he was wrong.
Trader Joe’s managers told unvaccinated employees to wear masks unless they could provide vaccination cards as proof they had gotten the shots, he said.
“Really the crux of the issue for me is the invasion of privacy when it comes to divulging my private medical information,” Glazebrook said. “I feel like medical privacy is being violated. Whether or not someone is vaccinated, that is their choice. My body, my choice—bodily autonomy. Personal liberty is the issue here.”
“I respect everyone’s choice when it comes to whether or not they get the shot. But conversely, I feel like my rights should be respected as well. It shouldn’t be made a condition of employment, so that’s sort of where I wanted to draw the line.”
Within a week of the new OSHA guidelines, Glazebrook said he tried once more to broach the subject with human resources, but “again was shut down.”
“There was no opportunity to discuss it,” he said. “I was told by my regional manager and my store manager, ‘If you want to feed your family, just be quiet and put on the mask.’”
Months before the statewide mandate ended, Glazebrook complied with the usual COVID-19 daily health screening procedures. But, when an assistant manager asked him if he had been vaccinated, Glazebrook replied with a question: Were employees now going to be asked about their vaccination status as part of the screening?
The manager balked at his reply and “changed his tune,” Glazebrook said. “It seemed like they didn’t have a firm policy on it, and that caused a huge ruckus in the store.”
“They called HR and pulled me aside the next day and tried to sort of intimidate me, telling me, ‘Hey, it’s completely legal for us to ask you,’” Glazebrook said. “I had researched it throughout that day. And I said, ‘No, it’s not. It’s not legal for you to ask me to provide medical information, such as my vaccination status.’”
He said store managers then stopped asking employees whether they had gotten the shots—until Cal/OSHA issued guidelines on vaccinations, and the questions resumed.
Even if the FDA fully approves the vaccines, Glazebrook said he objects to getting the shots for moral and religious grounds, because fetal cell lines were used in research and development.
“I’ve made myself a target at work … to try to advocate for my co-workers, because a lot of them are really intimidated and scared. They feel the way I do,” he said. “I want to see people’s rights protected.”
Glazebrook said he has watched as workers with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and those who are elderly or pregnant were “made to wear a mask at work with no consideration for their needs.”
“I’m just tired of it,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing people treated like factory units instead of individuals … and despite the negative effects of the mask, I’m doing OK, but a lot of my coworkers aren’t.”
Worker 2: Heidi Petrilla
Heidi Petrilla, a Trader Joe’s employee in Orange County, California, said she was fired last week for signing the affidavit.
“I love the company. I love their products. I love the customers. I love the people I work with, and I wish I could work, but I can’t because you have to either vax or wear a mask and I won’t do either,” she said.
The work environment is also politically one-sided, and if you don’t agree with narrative, it’s best to keep quiet, she said.
“It’s just not right,” she said.
Several store managers were told by regional managers recently to get vaccinated by July 16 or face demotion, she said. Though the employee hasn’t seen a written directive, she claims “several captains have confirmed it.”
At Trader Joe’s, store managers are called “captains,” assistant managers are called “mates,” and the lower-ranking staff are called “crew members.” The regional managers were trying to keep it quiet, but as word got out, crew members began to worry they would be next, she said.
Petrilla said she isn’t “anti-vax” and is fully immunized except for the COVID-19 vaccine. “I had COVID,” she added. “I didn’t get any symptoms and survived.”
Trader Joe’s is wrong to push a “trial vaccine” on its workers, she said. “This is not an FDA-approved vaccine yet. It’s just a trial run, so being forced to take a trial vaccine doesn’t sit well with me.”
Worker 3: Melissa Whitney
Melissa Whitney, a long-term employee who worked at a store on California’s Central Coast, told The Epoch Times she was fired for signing the affidavit.
Two days after the state mask mandate was lifted, Whitney went to work without a mask. Shortly after, a manager told her she must wear the mask unless she had been vaccinated, she said.
Whitney handed her boss a medical exemption for the mask and a religious exemption for the vaccine and mask that she had written herself, she said.
The manager explained she didn’t know how to deal with the exemption and asked upper management what to do. A couple days later, Whitney was told “there was nothing” the company could do to accommodate her request for exemption, and she realized her only option was to take a personal leave of absence without pay, she said.
Whitney enjoyed her job at Trader Joe’s until the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’ve always loved it, but this last year has been kind of a living nightmare for me,” she said.
The one-sided culture at her store is “pretty oppressive,” Whitney said.
She said she didn’t think Trader’s Joe’s was overtly coercing employees to get vaccinated, but the idea of not having to wear a mask to work was enough to convince some people who didn’t want to get the shots to do so anyway, she said.
Because of her position on masks and vaccines, “I have dealt with microaggressions constantly the whole year long. Sometimes it’s not microaggression; sometimes it’s out-and-out aggression,” Whitney said.
Worker 4: ‘Anonymous’
A part-time Trader Joe’s employee in Los Angeles County who asked not to be named told The Epoch Times that she reluctantly got vaccinated due to “mounting pressure” not only from her employer but because of travel restrictions and vaccine passports in New York City, where her daughter attends college.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that proof of vaccination will be required for many activities in the city under the Key to NYC Pass program that started on Aug. 16. Employees and patrons have to provide a vaccination card, display the digital New York State Excelsior Pass, or use the NYC COVID Safe app to enter restaurants, theaters, and gyms, as well as large indoor events such as concerts.
The employee said she is “totally opposed” to wearing her mask at Trader Joe’s and asked for reduced work hours to avoid wearing it as much. Three weeks ago, she likened Trader Joe’s policies forcing unvaccinated workers to wear masks to the “Scarlet Letter.”
But, since then, Los Angeles County has issued a mandate requiring that “everyone regardless of vaccination status must wear a mask” in all businesses.
“For me, the mask is medical tyranny,” the employee said. “I think if you want to wear a mask, absolutely wear one. If you don’t, don’t.”
Requiring some but not all employees and customers to wear masks is illogical, she said.
Trader Joe’s policy is more about punishing employees and pressuring those who don’t want to get vaccinated to satisfy a company policy than it is about science or preventing the spread of disease, she claimed.
At her store, there is a leftwing “vibe” among most of the staff, with a few younger crew members who are “total socialists who want our government taken down and turned into a communist or socialist state,” she said.
“They don’t want to work” and don’t understand “the blessing of putting in a day’s work. They don’t get it,” she said.
“If you are not part of that mainstream narrative, you really do have to keep a low profile.”
She disagrees with people who think that wearing a mask for eight hours every day at work is “no big deal.”
“It is a big deal because when you’re physically working in the store, and you’re sweating … and it’s hot … you’re kind of suffocating,” she said. “You should be able to breathe. The universe didn’t design us to have a sheath over our face.”
The employee said she has an auto-immune disorder and was reluctant to get the vaccine for fear it could aggravate her condition or have other impacts on her health years down the road.
“It is an experimental drug,” she said. “I’ve thrown myself into the lion’s den hoping that I win. I cried during the entire shot because this is absolutely outrageous.”
She believes the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 is inaccurate and inflated.
“They’re lying,” she said of the authorities. “I also feel like the emergency use authorization was so that they couldn’t use an already pre-existing therapeutic drug that was cheap, like ivermectin, or hydroxychloroquine.”
The employee estimates about eight of about 85 employees contracted COVID-19 at her store during the pandemic but have all recovered.
Worker 5: ‘Anonymous’
An employee in a New England state who signed an affidavit but asked not to be named told The Epoch Times she was fired on Aug. 7 when she showed up for work.
Management accused her of “refusing to work with leadership to solve her concerns” and claimed she had therefore voluntarily resigned.
“This, of course, is not true as every single one of us has tried to work with leadership and we were stonewalled. We believe we were fired wrongfully,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic, customers who claimed they had a medical exemption and couldn’t wear a mask were often refused service and were treated poorly, she said.
Management and most of the staff “were extremely rude to them” she said. “It wasn’t a fun-loving, great place to work anymore. People were just full of a lot of hate and anger. And it just became a really negative environment.”
The employee said the stores on the West Coast have been aggressively promoting vaccinations for staff, while stores on the eastern seaboard haven’t been quite as pushy.
At her store, liberals openly share their political views at work, while conservatives aren’t particularly welcome to share theirs, the employee said. The liberal narrative is “all great and dandy,” but if you don’t agree “you’re immediately shut down or ridiculed,” she said.
“You just kind of keep your mouth shut and your head down, whereas they’re very vocal about things, and that’s apparently fine,” she said. “I’m used to it and kind of expect it even though that shouldn’t be the norm.”
The fact that customers, vaccinated or not, can now shop without masks, while unvaccinated staff are forced to wear masks makes no sense, she said. “It all seems so comical. There’s no rhyme or reason. … They’re just going through the motions.”
She said everyone should do their own research on the vaccine and make their own choice “as sovereign individuals” whether to get the shots or not. “And, if we don’t, then that’s it. It’s our choice. It’s nobody else’s business.”