PROVIDENCE, R.I.—New England’s Stop & Shop strike entered its eighth day on Thursday. More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers in New England went on strike Apr. 11, after the five United Food & Commercial Workers locals representing them rejected a contract offer from the supermarket chain that would have sharply increased their health-care costs.
“Despite multibillion-dollar profits, the company is attempting to enforce takebacks that hurt workers and their families,” UFCW Local 1445 in the Boston suburb of Dedham said in a strike alert posted on its Website last week. “It has become apparent that our only choice is to take a job action,” said Local 371 in Westport, Conn.
UFCW members at the 253 Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island had been working under an expired contract for almost seven weeks.
“Our 31,000 members who work at Stop & Shop work incredibly hard to provide the great customer service that has made the company billions of dollars in profit and the top grocery store in New England,” UFCW Locals 328, 371, 919, 1445, and 1459 said in a joint statement. “Instead of a contract that recognizes the value and hard work that our members provide every day, Stop & Shop has only proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health-care benefits and take-home pay, while replacing real customer service with more serve-yourself checkout machines.”
Stop & Shop, which kept some of its stores open with a combination of strikebreakers, corporate personnel, and self-service checkout machines, said it needed to make cuts to be “responsive to heavy non-union competition,” as the “last remaining large fully unionized retail grocery employer in New England.”
“We are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores,” it said.
The company’s latest proposal, offered Apr. 8, would have increased workers’ share of health-care costs by as much as two-thirds in some cases. The UFCW estimates that would have required full-time employees to pay an average of about $300 a year more for health care, and single part-time workers to pay about $200 more. That would have eaten up a big chunk of the wage increases the proposal offered, which were in the range of 25¢ an hour to $25 a week.
Stop & Shop management said that was still “substantially below-market costs” and less than what workers at other supermarkets pay for health coverage.
The company’s Apr. 8 proposal also would have cut pensions for many newly hired full-time employees by 32%, according to the UFCW. Management said it was the only grocer in New England still providing defined-benefit pensions for workers, and would not cut any already vested benefits.
It also offered a “voluntary retirement incentive” of $75,000 to 30% of the employees who’d worked at the company for the last 25 years. The UFCW rejected that, calling it a “bribe” and saying only about 400 workers would be eligible.
“Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, saw over $2 billion in profits last year and got a U.S. tax cut of $225 million in 2017. The company is claiming the proposed cuts are necessary, but is unlawfully refusing to provide financial information to verify that claim,” the UFCW said. Meanwhile, it added, “Ahold shareholders voted on April 10 to give themselves an 11.1% raise in dividends over the last year. The expected payout will be on April 25 for around $880 million.”
The strike involves about half of Stop & Shop’s U.S. employees and affects over half of its more than 400 stores, with those in New York and New Jersey, according to the trade journal Progressive Grocer. The magazine ranked Ahold fourth on its 2018 “Super 50 list” of the top grocery retailers in the U.S. Its $46.1 billion in sales in fiscal 2018 were well behind Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons, but more than the combined sales of Amazons’ Whole Foods, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s.
In North Providence, R.I. Jeffrey Drouin, a 34-year-old father of four who said he’s worked at Stop & Shop for almost five years and takes home about $500 a week after taxes, told the Providence Journal that the company’s pension proposal would cut him off about two months before he becomes vested.
“They basically want to take everything away from us,” he said.
Timothy M. Melia, president of Local 328 in Providence, said in a statement on the local’s Website that the decision to strike had come after 35 bargaining sessions.
“We all hope that the company will come to their senses and bring back an offer that will be acceptable,” he added.