Easter Agreement Ends 11-Day Stop & Shop Strike

Apr 22, 2019
Originally published on April 22, 2019 9:53 am

Stop & Shop and its striking New England labor unions reached a tentative agreement on Easter Sunday to end an 11-day work stoppage that had shuttered some stores, left workers unpaid, and become an issue in the nascent presidential race.

Both the company and the unions — five chapters of United Food & Commercial Workers — declined to disclose full terms of the deal, which is subject to ratification votes. A UFCW spokeswoman said dates for the votes have not been set. In the meantime, union workers will return to their jobs Monday.

Union and company leaders declined interview requests.

In a joint statement, the unions said, “We are incredibly grateful to our customers and everyone who proudly stood together with us every day for a contract that invests in the communities we serve, and makes Stop & Shop a better place to work and a better place to shop.

“The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members,” the unions added.

Stop & Shop highlighted the same compensation points in its own statement and added: “Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the service they deserve. We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

A company spokeswoman said a small, but unspecified, number of the roughly 240 affected stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut will remain closed Monday. Other stores will open at 8 a.m., as they did during the strike, then resume normal hours.

The spokeswoman said it will take “a few days” for stores to replenish their stocks.

Stop & Shop workers went on strike to protest the company’s proposed changes to their wages and benefits. Labor contracts for the five UFCW chapters expired Feb. 23, and the two sides had been unable to agree to new terms, even as they met with a federal mediator.

Stop & Shop, a subsidiary of the Dutch conglomerate Ahold Delhaize, asked workers to contribute more to their health insurance premiums. The company said workers currently pay an average of 8.2 percent of the cost of single coverage and 6.6 percent of the cost of family coverage. Those contributions are well below national averages, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2018 Employer Health Benefit Survey.

Stop & Shop also wanted to reduce pensions for some workers, arguing that the company is an industry outlier and is therefore at a competitive disadvantage. Stop & Shop said it wanted to freeze its monthly pension-fund contribution for new, full-time workers. Pension payments for part-time workers hired after Feb. 23, 2014, would have stopped increasing, under the last proposal the company made public.

In addition, Stop & Shop wanted to freeze the 50 percent hourly bonus paid to part-time workers on Sundays. The company proposed smaller bonuses for new, part-time hires: an extra $1 per hour for the first year of employment and $2 per hour after that.

Workers’ fight to preserve wages and benefits quickly gained support of Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, and potential candidate Joe Biden. Their response to the Stop & Shop strike suggested Democrats will push hard in 2020 to regain their traditional hold on voters who are members of labor unions.

Among union households in 2016, President Trump came within 8 percentage points of Hillary Clinton, according to exit polling. In the six previous elections, the Democratic nominee had bested the Republican by at least 18 percentage points.

Beyond political pressure, Stop & Shop felt the pain of lost business during the strike, as it was forced to offer reduced hours and limited food selections.

But picketers also felt squeezed. They went without pay and said they couldn’t expect much financial assistance from the union. Strike captain Paul Batista, a butcher at the Stop & Shop on Everett Street in Allston, told WBUR that the strike fund would provide only $100 per week for full-time workers and $50 per week for part timers.

Batista added that May 1 was an important date for striking Stop & Shop workers. That’s when company-sponsored health insurance would lapse, he said.

Strikers could apply for unemployment benefits but faced the prospect of rejection. According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, “employees participating in a labor dispute (i.e., strike) that results in a substantial curtailment of the employer’s business do not qualify for benefits.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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