The New England Stop & Shop strike entered its eighth day Friday as the grocery store's parent company continued to refuse to honor the union's demand for a fair contract.
At the heart of the dispute is an inability for Ahold Delhaize, a Dutch grocery conglomerate that owns Stop & Shop, and the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UCFW) to reach an agreement on a new contract. The sticking point is Ahold Delhaize's refusal to back down from its demand that the grocery store's workers take a cut in benefits—even as the parent company is reporting billions in profits.
"We want our pension to be left the way it is, our healthcare not to be taken away from us, to keep our time and a half," striker Chris Pacitto, explained "Everything that we fight for every day."
It's the largest strike in at least three years for a private company. The strike, which affects 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Ahold Delhaize claims that Stop & Shop employees are better paid than direct competitors and that they are the only unionized food retailer in the region. Be that as it may, that is no excuse to take what their workers have labored for.
I've been working paycheck-to-paycheck my entire life," striker Shaunna Beck told Rhode Island news channel WPRI. "I depend on this job."
UCFW rep Melissa May told local NPR affiliate WAMC that "the support from customers has been unbelievable."
"They have supported us in many ways, first and foremost by not crossing our picket line, which we are asking everybody not to do," said the union rep. "But they have also continued every day to come out with coffee and donuts, with pizza, with personal donations, with gift cards to other stores, just with well wishes too—keeping our spirits up and making sure they won't come back until we get a fair contract."
The strike started April 11 with 31,000 Stop & Shop grocery workers walking out. It is the largest strike in the U.S. retail sector since the Southern California grocery workers’ strike of 2003-2004. Almost 2,000 Teamsters who work as truck drivers for Stop & Shop or its vendors and suppliers are refusing to make essential food deliveries during the strike, leading to bare shelves. If the company succeeds in weakening the workers’ health care and pension plans, and lowering the rate for Sunday pay, it will try to impose concessionary contracts on its workers in other states (New York State has more than 200 Stop & Shop stores, and the company also owns the Giant and Food Lion grocery chains). A management victory would also give encouragement to other unionized food retailers seeking to reduce costs and boost profits by slashing employee benefits.
Stop & Shop management wants to cut workers’ health and pension benefit plans in order to reduce costs and give even more money to its major investors, but the company does not need to do so in order to remain profitable. Management is essentially seeking to make more short-term profits for its shareholders off the backs of its lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers, many of whom have given years or even decades of service to the company. The issue is not really the competition that Stop & Shop face from non-unionized Walmart; rather, it’s their desire to adopt the same low-road practices of poverty-level wages and lousy benefits.