April 11, 2019

Stop & Shop workers walk off the job amid labor dispute

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon
Employees striking Thursday afternoon at the Berlin Stop & Shop, which was closed.

Left with an expired labor deal, Stop & Shop workers in New England walked off the job Thursday afternoon as negotiations again fell apart this week.

The 31,000 Stop & Shop workers in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) already voted to authorize a strike last month, but hadn't left their posts until Thursday at 1:15 p.m. Its three-year labor deal expired Feb. 23.

Union officials said members of Locals 919 (Farmington) and 371 (Westport) began a protest at the Stop & Shop in East Hartford, 940 Silver Lane, at that time to push back against the Mass.-based company's latest "final offer," which included $75,000 buyouts for the supermarket's tenured staff.

UFCW spokeswoman Amy Ritter earlier this week downplayed the buyout offer, claiming it would only be available to 1.29 percent of Stop & Shop's workforce in New England.

"We see this proposed buyout as nothing more than a bribe of our most loyal, senior members in an attempt to convince them to go against their own best interest…" Ritter said earlier this week.

Attorney General William Tong said he would stand with protesters at the Stop & Shop in Southington on Thursday evening. Protests were also being held Thursday at Stop & Shop locations in Berlin, Vernon, Manchester and Hamden, among other locations.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said they would also join protesters on Friday afternoon at stores in Hamden and New Haven, respectively.

UFCW argues the supermarket's labor offer would make drastic cuts to worker benefits and aims to continue replacing cashiers with automated self-checkout machines.

Stop & Shop has said all along it's offering a fair contract for workers, pointing to company-wide pay increases for associates and unchanged health plan deductibles, which they say are already "well above average" compared to other grocers.

In a statement Thursday, the company said it was "disappointed" the union chose to issue a work stoppage in an effort to disrupt store operations. The supermarket said it has a contingency plan in place to mitigate the disruption.

Stop & Shop offered new labor proposals to federal mediators late Thursday morning in an attempt to continue bargaining, but the union provided no counter offer and moved forward with its plans to strike.

"Stop & Shop remains ready and available to meet with the union locals at any time," the statement said.

Thursday's strike comes a day after shareholders of Stop & Shop's parent company, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, voted to give themselves an 11 percent raise in dividends compared to a year prior. That payout, delivered on April 25, will amount to about $880 million for shareholders, UFCW said.

It wasn't immediately clear from UFCW on Thursday afternoon how long the strike would last, or how store operations would be impacted.

Thursday's strike marks the first against Stop & Shop since 1988, UFCW has said.

This story has been updated

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