Stop & Shop workers in New England may soon stage a strike due to the chain’s failure to agree on a new contract this weekend with the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that represents the grocery’s employees.
Representatives from Stop & Shop and the union met over the weekend to renegotiate their contract after their previous contract, settled in 2013, expired on Sunday. The parties hoped to reach a compromise on policies regarding workers’ wages, insurance, pensions and the treatment of newly hired employees. UFCW Local 919 Director Mark Espinosa, who leads Connecticut’s branch of the union, said the company’s employees will continue to work while the union and Stop & Shop’s parent organization, Ahold, bargain towards a solution. But for some employees at the supermarket, patience is running thin.
“Some of us have dedicated our lives to making the company what it is today and we are unappreciated,” said an employee in Boston’s chapter of UFCW in a video announcement of the Massachusetts chapter’s intention to strike. “How can they do this to us? We come here in snowstorms when nobody else wants to come in and they send us here and there.”
According to the UFCW website, several New England branches — including Local 919 of Connecticut — planned to vote on a strike on Sunday but cancelled the vote after progress was made in last week’s negotiation. Espinosa said a chapter vote on whether or not to strike planned for Sunday has not been cancelled, but postponed.
“With the current contract expiring tonight, our members would have to vote in a new contract and we can’t yet say when that vote would take place until we have reached a tentative agreement,” Espinosa said Sunday. “If an agreement is not reached, we will continue at the bargaining table in good faith and our members will continue to work.”
Stop & Shop hired replacement workers in January to prepare for a possible UFCW strike after their negotiations with the union proved unusually contentious. The contract negotiations in 2013 centered on rectifying part-time health insurance losses caused by the Affordable Care Act, Espinosa said. But this year, disagreements over pension programs, wages and other issues have held agreements on the contract back. UFCW publicly claimed the chain is freezing wages and cutting back on health care benefits while contributing less to pensions in a series of leaflets, including an electronic poster circulated on their website last week. But according to company spokesman Phil Tracey, the multistate chain’s wages are in fact increasing and that employees will see more robust health care benefits while keeping premiums constant. He added that the company will continue to contribute the same amount to their employees’ pension funds as they did before.
Members of the UFCW chapter based in Boston decided Sunday that they will comply with a strike if their local leaders issue a walk-out in the near future, a Local 1445 spokesman told the News in a Sunday email.
If this chapter’s strike does proceed, it will be the first Stop & Shop strike in recent years, Tracey said. Since strikes are organized on a local basis, it is unclear whether or not Connecticut’s chapter will follow suit.
As negotiations volleyed between UFCW and Stop & Shop executives behind closed doors last weekend, dozens of Stop & Shop employees protested outside locations in the Northeast. Demonstrators distributed pamphlets and urged the grocery’s patrons to boycott Stop & Shop in solidarity with employees.
Stop & Shop employs roughly 34,000 people in New England, 12,500 of whom are in Connecticut.
Clarification, Feb. 29: A previous version of this article implied that there was a Stop & Shop strike in 2013. In fact, there was not.