WESTFIELD- The Stop and Shop strike is nearing its first full week and there does not appear to be any sign of a deal being reached between the grocery store chain and the five unions that have been in negotiations since the beginning of the year.
No deliveries have been made to Stop and Shop locations since the employees did a mass walk-out at 1 p.m. last Thursday, according to Marsha Bassett of UFCW 1459. People are now being allowed in to at least the Westfield location, but there are no employees inside to assist them besides a few managers. The cash registers are unmanned, so potential customers must use the self-service cash registers instead.
Because there have been no deliveries, perishable food is in low stock as products begin to near the expiration date. The shelves have not been fully stocked as they normally would each day. The employees striking outside many locations have been seen holding signs asking people to not cross the picket line, and to go to other stores if they really need something. The bank and pharmacy inside the Westfield location remain open. In a statement on Monday, Stop and Shop President Mark McGowan said that the stores will remain open, but the seafood, bakery, deli, and customer service counters will be out of commission.
“This is not something we wanted to do,” said Bassett, “They left us no choice.”
Talks between the five unions and the company have been done through a federal mediator. Among many reasons the unions gave for striking was to protect their existing pensions, said Joe Lesko, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 371. He also said that the company sought to eliminate time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and reduce vacation time, among other benefit cuts.
In a company statement, Stop and Shop representatives said that their offer to unions was as follows: Keeping the pensions for all associates as assigned with it being 100 percent funded by the company, no cuts to pension benefits already earned by associates, and an increase of 20 percent of the company’s contribution to the pension fund. They also said they are offering a pay increase to all associates with no changes to the current time-and-a-half Sundays. In the offer was also a provision that made no changes to the amount of paid time off. They said the company offers 10-12 paid holidays per year for most employees.
As far as health care, Stop and Shop has offered to pay 92 percent of employee health premiums with at least 88 percent for individual coverage. They added that deductibles would not increase or change at all under their proposal and spouses would be eligible for the health plan. In addition, the statement said that, in Local 371 and 919, there would be no changes to out-of-pocket maximums. In Locals 1459, 1445 and 328, the out-of-pocket maximums would match what Local 371 and 919 already have in their plan for Stop & Shop associates.
“First, we want you to know, Stop & Shop recognizes the valuable role our associates play in creating a great experience for you. They are a part of your lives, a part of our community, and key to our success. That’s why it is so important to us to provide a fair contract to our employees who are members of the UFCW unions currently on strike,” said McGowan, “The wages, healthcare, and pension offer for all of our employees – full and part-time, across all stores – are among the best for New England retail and supermarket associates. This contract offer is no exception. That’s why we are committed to continued discussions until a fair and reasonable result is achieved.”
UFCW 371 said in a statement that Stop and Shop has been selectively releasing information to tell just part of the story.
“While talks continued with the company today through the federal mediator, Stop & Shop is still demanding major concessions that could severely impact your ability to provide for yourselves and your families. We reaffirmed to the company that our members are strong and will continue standing together, rain or shine, until the company does the right thing,” said the statement, “We know the company is selectively releasing information to the public about what they have proposed. They are only telling part of the story. The concessions they want would affect members in different ways and we will leave no member behind.”
Striking employees have been standing out in front of their stores with picket signs during what would have been their normal shift hours. They have picket signs and petitions for people to sign in support of their strike. Some people would approach the store in the early hours of the strike, not knowing what was happening and expecting to be able to shop. Some offered their immediate support and signed the petition. Others became annoyed or angry and some even hurled insults at the striking workers.
The strike of the New England grocery chain effects 31,000 employees, with approximately 150 employees in the Westfield location. The contract negotiations that lead to the strike have been going on since January, before the strike began last week.