Trader Joe’s Keeps Up Trademark Fight Against Workers’ Union

Trader Joe’s isn’t backing down in a trademark battle with its workers’ union.

Last month a federal judge threw out all of the company’s claims that the union, Trader Joe’s United, had violated its trademarks with the union’s name and logo. The judge went so far as to say that the company’s attorneys nearly deserved sanctions for even filing the lawsuit.

But the scathing order didn’t stop Trader Joe’s from filing an appeal in federal court Thursday in hopes of keeping the lawsuit alive. The company is trying to force the union to stop selling merchandise like tote bags, T-shirts and mugs that have the name Trader Joe’s United on them.

Trader Joe’s argues that the items could be creating “confusion” among its consumers and “diluting” the grocer’s brand — claims that the judge overseeing the case, Hernán Vera, didn’t buy in the slightest. Vera wrote that Trader Joe’s was trying to “weaponize” the legal system against its own workers to “gain advantage” in an ongoing labor dispute.

“A federal judge wrote that Trader Joe’s attorneys came ‘dangerously close’ to deserving sanctions for filing the lawsuit.”

The trademark lawsuit is one of a handful that big-name companies have filed recently against new unions while claiming intellectual property violations. Medieval Times and Starbucks made similar claims against Medieval Times Performers United and Starbucks Workers United, respectively.

The companies’ legal efforts are not going well so far.

Like Trader Joe’s, Medieval Times saw a federal judge throw out all of its claims. The judge in its case wrote that there was “no plausible likelihood” of people conflating the dinner theater chain with the union that represents workers at two of its nine U.S. castles. Medieval Times has appealed the judge’s order dismissing its case.

Seth Goldstein, an attorney for Trader Joe’s United, called the Trader Joe’s appeal “unhinged.”

“This is all part of their overall strategy,” he said, claiming that the company wants to bury the upstart union in litigation.

Nakia Rohde, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson, said in an email that the company would “continue to take all appropriate” action in the case.

“Trader Joe’s consistently takes legal action to protect our brand when we become aware that someone other than Trader Joe’s is selling merchandise using our trademarks and trade dress,” Rohde said.

Trader Joe's sued Trader Joe's United and claimed that the union was violating its trademarks.
Trader Joe’s sued Trader Joe’s United and claimed that the union was violating its trademarks.

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

Since 2022, Trader Joe’s United has unionized four stores — in Massachusetts, Minnesota, California and Kentucky. The company has challenged the union’s victory in Kentucky by claiming that union supporters illegally pressured workers to vote in their favor. Officials at the National Labor Relations Board found no merit in the company’s claims, but Trader Joe’s has appealed the case.

In his order dismissing the trademark claims by Trader Joe’s, Vera wrote that the company’s attorneys came “dangerously close to the line of Rule 11” — a federal rule that allows courts to sanction lawyers for filings made in bad faith.

The trademark case against Trader Joe’s United could prove costly if it fails. Attorneys for the union have asked the court that Trader Joe’s be compelled to cover the union’s legal fees, according to court filings. The amount requested so far tops $200,000.

One of the union’s attorneys, Retu Singla, argued in a filing that Trader Joe’s should have to cover the expenses in part because it continued to pursue the case after Medieval Times’ similar claims were thrown out.

“Trader Joe’s United, a fledgling and independent union of extremely modest resources, has been forced to expend a substantial amount of its means to defend itself against [Trader Joe’s] frivolous claims,” Singla wrote.

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