Stop & Shop workers in central Connecticut joined colleagues across New England on picket lines Thursday after the union representing them was unable to reach an agreement with the company on a new contract.
Union members had voted to strike last month, but store employees walked off the job Thursday afternoon. The 31,000-plus workers at locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have not had a contract since February.
Employees at the supermarket chain’s New Britain location crowded the entrances to the store, encouraging customers to shop elsewhere. They wore signs reading “Please don’t cross the line,” “Unfair labor practices” and “Bargaining in bad faith.”
“We just want to be treated fairly. We don’t want our benefits taken away,” said Jesus Ortiz, the seafood manager, who has worked for Stop & Shop at various locations for 15 years.
Ortiz said that veterans, people with families and people who have worked at Stop & Shop for decades were outside picketing.
“My life revolves around this company and this is how they repay us,” said Ortiz. “We deserve better than this. We just want a fair contract, that’s all. Don’t treat us like we didn’t make the company millions.”
“Basically they’re taking a whole lot away from us and the new employees,” said Sharon Turek, who works at the Stop & Shop gas station in New Britain. “They have a $2 billion profit and they’re not willing to negotiate with us.”
“We want our benefits. We want our pay. We want our hours and we want it now,” said Leeann Johnson, who works in the front end of the store and in customer service.
“We just want what’s fair,” added Carol Collins, a cash department head.
“They pride themselves on their, our, customer service and they don’t want to pay us for it,” said Vanessa Napolitano, also a cash department head. “For that matter, we pride ourselves on our customer service and they don’t want to pay us.”
“I’m out here to support myself and my other employees. They’re taking away our benefits,” said Amber White, a florist. She said that she looks forward to getting time and a half on Sundays, which Stop & Shop has put on the chopping block.
Stop & Shop issued a statement Thursday, saying the company is disappointed in the workers’ decision to strike.
“Given that negotiations with assistance of the federal mediators are continuing, we are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores,” the statement said. “Stop & Shop has contingency plans in place to minimize disruption.”
Stop & Shop has been owned by the Dutch supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize since 1995. Workers have not gone on strike since 1988. Ahold last year reported earning a $2.1 billion profit, according to the UFCW.
The work stoppage on Thursday was not expected to impact customers looking to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy.
Ted Bouchard, a meat cutter at one of Stop & Shop’s two Bristol locations, called the contract being offered by Stop & Shop a “big disadvantage.”
“They want to make cuts to the benefit package, the whole nine yards,” he said.
“It’s just a big disadvantage,” Bouchard said.
Stop & Shop’s statement stated the company has “proposed a good and reasonable offer to our union locals” that includes:
nAcross-the-board pay increases for all associates – no one’s pay would be cut.
nContinued “Gold Level” health care benefits for eligible associates – at a fraction of what employees at other retail companies pay and with no changes to already unusually low deductibles.
nIncreased company contributions to the UFCW’s defined benefit pension fund for current full- and vested part-time associates – a rare benefit in the New England food retail industry.
According to Stop & Shop, “the company made several suggestions to the federal mediators to encourage further bargaining. The mediators gave those proposals to the locals late in the morning. The locals provided no counter proposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans.”
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.