Stop & Shop hit by strike as 31,000 workers walk off job

More than 31,000 employees of the grocery chain Stop & Shop walked off the job across New England last week, after the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and management reached an impasse in negotiations.

At the weekend, as the strikers attracted support from among others Senator Elizabeth Warren and former vice-president Joe Biden, the two sides restarted efforts to find a compromise over healthcare, wages and pensions.

Many stores opened on Friday with severely reduced staff and management working registers. In parking lots at the 240 stores affected, longtime customers refused to cross picket lines. At one location in Somerville, Massachusetts, a staffing agency brought in temporary workers to cover missed shifts, much to the chagrin of strikers.

In a video circulated on Facebook, Tyrone Housey, president of UFCW Local 1459 in Springfield, Massachusetts, encouraged union members to ask shoppers not to do business with the company until the strike ends.

The strikers come from all roles, from cashiers to bakers, butchers and deli employees. Their three-year contract expired on 23 February. Several local chapters of the union voted to strike. A Stop & Shop spokeswoman, Jennifer Brogan, said the company had been trying to negotiate.

“Throughout negotiations, Stop & Shop continuously has been available to bargain, every day, for nearly three months,” she said. “The company’s current offer is substantially enhanced, better for associates than most recent UFCW contract settlements, provides overall pay and benefits that are better than what most of our competitors provide, and represents improvements for our associates.”

For Paul Tritto, 59, the strike is about providing the best care for his autistic grandson. An 18-year employee, now a meat manager, Tritto drives more than 40 miles across state lines for his job, in order to support the 16-year-old and his own wife, who is retired and handicapped.

“We were actually in the process of getting him on my health insurance,” Tritto told the Guardian, adding that the proposal the company is pushing would drastically increase his monthly contributions.

“For a family plan right now,” he said, “the deductible is $2,500. With what they’re pushing, it will go up to $5,000.” He and his wife would pay more than $300 a month for coverage, he said, not factoring in additional care and adding his grandson to the mix.

Management is also axing overtime pay on holidays and Sundays, which would mean Tritto would make $20 an hour on Sundays, instead of $30.

“I’d be forced to take a part-time job,” he said. “And that takes more time away from my grandson Seth and wife, who can’t drive.”

The latest proposal from Stop & Shop includes pay increases for associates and an increase of $2 to $4 on health insurance premiums. The pay increase is 50 cents an hour. According to the union, it would not offset higher healthcare costs.

The UFCW national spokeswoman, Erikka Knuti, told the Guardian the average full-time employee would pay $900 in weekly health premiums over three years. Part-timers would pay $600.

Monday is day five of a strike workers think could be successful. Kristen Johnson, a 34-year-old deli manager at a store near McGrath Highway in Massachusetts, said the location usually had about $100,000 in sales on an average Saturday.

“They’ll be lucky if they make $10,000,” she said, describing customers who have joined strikers, delivered pizza and shared coffee. Despite the cuts proposed by the company, Johnson said she was not considering a move.

“We love what we do,” she said, “or else we wouldn’t be here. We love our customers. They’re like our second family. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Johnson said strikers “loved it” when Warren, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, joined them on the picket line on Friday and urged her audience to not cross it.

“This is a company that made $2bn in profits, that then got a fancy tax break in Washington from the Republicans and now wants to squeeze our workers right here in Massachusetts,” she said.

Last year, Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, reported profits of more than $2bn.

Other unions have been supporting the Stop & Shop workers. The Teamsters Council 10, for example, is cutting off supplies like produce and perishables and stopping trash pick-up.



Автор: Sarah Betancourt in Boston
Дата: 2019-04-15 16:37

Источник: Stop & Shop hit by strike as 31,000 workers walk off job