April 9, 2019

Stop & Shop offers $75K buyouts to end labor fight

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
In October, Stop & Shop completed a $70 million renovation of 21 Hartford region stores.
Photo | UFCW
Workers recently protested outside of the Stop & Shop in Chicopee, Mass.

Stop & Shop says it's improved a "final offer" to resolve a three-month stalemate with its unionized employees, offering workers higher wages and $75,000 buyout packages to tenured staff.

The Mass.-based retailer on Monday detailed for the first time its proposed three-year collective bargaining agreement, which is being negotiated by the company, the five New England chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and several federal mediators.

The moderators were brought in to help the two sides find common ground on a new deal after the three-year labor pact for 31,000 unionized Stop & Shop workers in New England expired Feb. 23.

Workers from each UFCW local chapter -- Local 919 (Farmington), Local 371 (Westport), Local 1459 (Springfield), Local 328 (Providence) and Local 1445 (Dedham) -- have authorized a strike, but have not yet walked off the job.

Stop & Shop said it is offering pay increases to all full- and part-time associates.

The supermarket, owned by Netherlands-based Ahold, say it would not change vacation time, sick leave or the number of paid holidays for current employees, as it already offers 10 paid holidays vs. competitors in the area who offer up to eight paid holidays.

New full-time associates would receive up to eight paid holidays, five paid sick days and new part-time associates would receive up to six paid holidays.

Stop & Shop is also offering full-time associates with 25 years of continuous service a $75,000 buyout to voluntarily retire, and associates over age 60 could be eligible to continue receiving monthly health and welfare benefits coverage through age 65.

The buyout offer is contingent on a contract settlement being inked by Wednesday.

"Negotiations have been complex, largely because of factors specific to our region and industry – fierce competition from non-union retailers, new state mandates on minimum wage and paid sick leave, and increased costs related to health and retirement benefits," the company said in a statement Monday.

"We believe this proposal represents a responsible balance that continues to keep Stop & Shop's full-time associates among the highest paid in the industry while also providing pay increases and a wide range of benefits for those working full- or part-time schedules," it said.

The grocery retailer will continue offering a majority of its associates a defined benefit pension, which it says is rare among New England supermarkets. Its proposal would also increase the company's contributions to pension funds by more than 20 percent.

Deductibles of $200 will remain for individual coverage in the UFCW interstate health and welfare plans for a majority of full-time associates. Meantime, the average deductible for individual coverage is $1,500, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

UFCW previously said the supermarket's original "final offer" proposed a wage and benefit cut that would have "an adverse effect" on the majority of Stop & Shop workers in New England.

On Tuesday, UFCW spokesperson Amy Ritter in a statement called the buyout offer "a bribe for our most loyal, senior members in an attempt to convince them to go against their own best interest and the interest of all 31,000 Stop & Shop members."

Ritter added that the buyout offer is only available to 1.29 percent of Stop & Shop workers in New England.

"The company needs to do right by all of its workers and settle on a contract that recognizes their hard work and dedication to providing excellent customer service," Ritter said.

Clarification: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Stop & Shop's latest labor proposal offered $15 hourly minimum wages. Instead, the supermarket was referring to weekly pre-tax deductions for healthcare coverage.

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