Rebekah Brancato News Editor
Tens of thousands of unionized Stop & Shop employees across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have gone on strike starting Thursday, April 11. The strike is the result of a standstill in negotiations between Stop & Shop and The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) over a proposed employee contract. The UFCW argue that Stop & Shop has “refused to back down from proposals attempting to cut workers’ health care, take home pay, and retirement benefits.”
Willimantic Stop & Shop employee Spencer Blassberg told The Campus Lantern: “We want better benefits, pension, Sunday time and a half, and protection of new employees.”
According to a report on the company’s website, Stop & Shop makes up 21% of the food retailer market in New England, with competitors including both regional chains such as Big Y and nationwide chains such as Walmart, Costco, and Aldi’s. They point out that full time Stop & Shop union associates in New England are among the highest paid in the industry, with an average hourly wage of $21.30.
However, UFCW claims that Stop & Shop’s proposal includes drawbacks such as elimination of Sunday time and a half and holiday pay for part-timers and “doubling the healthcare out-of-pocket limits for many employees,” which would not be offset by wage increases.
According to UFCW, at least several dozen out of 240 stores in the three states are closed. However, many customers are avoiding shopping even at the ones that are still open. On April 16, Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan stated in a letter that bakery, customer service, deli, seafood counters and gas stations will not be operational in any stores.
On April 14 – a Sunday, typically a busy day for grocery stores – the Stop & Shop parking lot in Willimantic was almost empty. “Most loyal customers have adhered to the strike and supported us by avoiding to shop at stop and shop [sic]. We also get customers who have stood and protested with us for hours. They’ve shown that they support the workers over the store,” stated Blassberg.
“In nearly 30 years, we haven’t seen a strike as effective and devastating as this one,” Burt P. Flickinger III told The Boston Globe. Flickinger is the managing director of the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, which has been evaluating grocery store strikes for three decades.
McGowan said to customers in his letter that, “We are grateful for your understanding and are working around the clock to get back to business as usual.” As of April 17, negotiations between Stop & Shop and UFCW are still ongoing with the support of federal mediators.