After a Friday rally outside the Omni Hotel and contract negotiations that lasted through the weekend, Local 371 and Stop and Shop reached an agreement early Sunday morning, averting a threatened strike.
The supermarket and the United Food and Commercial Worker Union approved a three-year contract for 40,000 workers in three states. The supermarket had been demanding an increase in worker contribution for health coverage costs as well as a minimum of three years employment before they can receive health coverage. It had also been seeking to end overtime pay hours for new hires on Sundays and holidays.
Local 371 president Brian A. Petronella said the proposed give backs were dangerous to current and future union members, and if the issue had not been resolved by Saturday at midnight, workers would have considered a strike.
“We are just looking for a decent contract,” Petronella said. “There is no need for any of the concessions Stop and Shop is demanding. This is corporate greed at is worst.”
The new contract allows workers to keep their medical packages, provides wage and benefit increases, and requires that part-time new hires wait two years for medical benefits instead of the proposed three.
Around 50 local political, religious, and labor leaders gathered outside the Omni Hotel Friday to support Local 371 — which represents about 5,000 Stop and Shop deli, meat and fish department workers in Connecticut — in their contract negotiations with Stop and Shop.
Greater New Haven Labor Council president Bob Proto said after hoping for the best, he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.
“When something like that is resolved, of course we’re happy,” he said.
Proto led Friday’s demonstration and introduced each of the ten featured speakers. Proto, who is also the president of Local 35, was an active participant in the a three-week union strike at Yale this fall.
“We stand here as a broad coalition of community and labor leaders to give Stop and Shop a warning,” Proto said. “If you draw a line in the sand with your workers, you also draw a line with your customers, many of whom are members of our unions, community and church groups.”
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal received a warm welcome from the crowd in appreciation of his support. He said his main concern was to avoid a strike that could be disruptive to the entire community.
“As a citizen even more than as a public official, I hope that we can resolve this health care issue in a way that is fair to working men and women,” Blumenthal said. “But this will require reasonable attitudes on both sides.”
Three religious leaders spoke on behalf of the local religious community, encouraging church members to refuse to cross the picket lines and use other stores until a fair agreement is reached.
“We are calling on members to stop shopping at Shop and Stop if they continue to treat workers this way,” the Rev. Scott Marks, a prominent union supporter, said. “This is about respect and dignity, and if there are picket lines, we will not be crossing them because we will be part of them.”
Representatives from other local organizations such as Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization, the New Haven teachers union, and the American Postal Workers union pledged to stand behind the workers through the strike.
Postal Workers union leader John Dirzius said as a union leader, he has always encouraged members to shop at union stores such as Stop and Shop, but he is just as willing to tell them to stop.
“There are two main things labor unions look for: fair wages and health care,” Drarses said. “And if they can’t get this, then we are taking a huge step backward.”
Proto thanked local labor groups for their presence.
“[The labor movement] needs to be communicating with one another to support each other whenever it has tough battles with companies like Stop and Shop.”
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