After months of unsuccessful contract negotiations, Stop & Shop workers in New Haven joined a New England–wide strike last week.
In an April 12 press release, the United Food & Commercial Workers — the union to which most Stop & Shop employees belong — said 31,000 of their members walked off their jobs. The protests, still ongoing, concerned the replacement of cashiers with self-serve checkout machines as well as cuts to employee health care benefits and take home pay.
“The hard-working men and women at over 240 stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are standing together to tell Stop & Shop that it is time to do the right thing,” the UFCW said in the press release. “What Stop & Shop workers don’t deserve and what no one who works hard in New England deserves are unreasonable cuts while the company they work so hard for makes billions of dollars in profit.”
State and city officials came to show solidarity with the striking workers. Mayor Toni Harp, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn. and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz ’83 were among those who visited the strike. Mayoral candidates, including Urn Pendragon and Justin Elicker, were also present.
Local branches of the UFCW have been in contract negotiations with Stop & Shop since Jan. 14. According to the union, Stop & Shop intends to set low wage increases for part-time employees, reduce monthly pensions for newly hired workers and raise weekly healthcare premiums over three years. While Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop’s parent company, has stood behind the proposed cuts, UFCW said that the corporation has unlawfully withheld the financial data needed to justify its offer.
The New Haven Stop & Shop on Whalley Avenue has closed due to the strike, though the bank and pharmacy inside have remained open.
On the strike’s fourth day, a dozen UFCW members camped out in folding chairs in front of the store. Some waved signs at the passing traffic while one woman chanted about corporate greed as she flipped hotdogs on a pair of charcoal grills. Union members set up folding tables with food and played radio music over cars honking in support.
Scott Passaro, a Stop & Shop employee of 35 years, stood at the corner of the store’s parking lot with other union members to raise awareness of their efforts among passersby. While nearby stores in Hamden and Amity remained open with self-scan checkouts, Passaro has noticed that the public has been largely supportive of the strike.
“A lot of people, as they come into the parking lot, they see us, they know us, they know the signs and they turn around and go somewhere else,” he told the News.
According to Passaro, the UFCW will notify their members when they have reached an agreement, and then the workers will vote on whether or not to approve the new contract. He said he was surprised that the negotiations dragged into a holiday week — unsold decorations remained on the shelves in the store. As of Monday, Passaro said that the negotiations had not progressed.
Mark McGowan, the president of Stop & Shop, said in an April 12 press release that the supermarket chain has remained committed to reaching a fair, new contract. McGowan said he would continue to support the company’s current proposal.
“Our offer provides pay increases for all associates, excellent health coverage with deductibles that would not change, increased contributions to the employee pension plans and no changes in paid time off or holidays for current associates,” McGowan said in the press release.
In a document issued by Stop & Shop explaining its position, the company said that as the only large fully unionized food retailer in New England, its employees were already among the highest paid in the industry. The document emphasized that while employees’ health plan contributions would increase, they would remain below the national average. Stop & Shop said most employees are provided with a funded pension plan and receive more paid off time than those working for its competitors.
Helen C. Powell, a cashier who has worked at Stop & Shop for eight years, sat on an overturned shopping cart near the entrance. Powell’s job is directly threatened by automated self-checkout, one of the central issues of the current strike.
“Without the cashiers you can’t have no service,” she said. “With self-scan there’s no human being so if you have a problem you can’t talk to nobody.”
However, Powell recognized the problems the strike may pose for many people in the community. She described how many customers in the area rely on the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop, since they do not have transportation that could take them to other stores.
A few customers came by to use the pharmacy and bank. While some customers expressed indifference about the strike, others supported the workers.
Spenser Bailey, who came to use the bank, said that the strikes were not an issue for him and that he would just go to the Big Y instead. As he passed through the doors, he added that he would not shop at other open Stop & Shops while the strikes continued.
Will Langhorne | firstname.lastname@example.org