The big issue in our contract was health care, which is also the major issue in California, where 70,000 members of our union (United Food and Commercial Workers) are on strike. We took a collection in the store for the workers in California, and a lot of us contributed.

Stop & Shop wanted to dismantle our union health plan, and charge a co-pay for coverage with a private HMO. In negotiations, we were able to maintain our health plan without co-pays, but we had to agree that new hires would work two years before they could get benefits – it had been one year. But overall, it is a great victory to hold the line on co-pays, considering what’s happening in California.

The contract covers five locals and 42,000 workers in three states. The company tried to separate us by getting different locals to agree to different expiration dates. We stopped that.

The hourly starting wage for part-time workers was $7.50 with some workers earning as much as $15 depending on seniority. Part-timers will get a modest increase of 80 cents per hour over the life of the contract. Increases for full-time workers are higher. To cut down salary costs, the company has been replacing full-time workers with part-timers so that the majority now work part-time but they still receive free medical benefits and pensions.

A co-worker at Stop & Shop used to work at Wal-Mart, where he was treated badly and benefits were very expensive. He’s much happier now, working in a union shop. That’s the kind of message the workers at Wal-Mart need to get. In California, the supermarkets are using Wal-Mart as an excuse to cut benefits and introduce co-pays. Even in this area, Wal-Mart is competing with Stop & Shop. If Wal-Mart keeps growing without being organized, I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to stop co-pays at Stop & Shop. That’s why organizing Wal-Mart, and other companies like them, is important to the whole labor movement.

It is a huge victory to continue to receive medical benefits without any employee contributions, including co-pays, in addition to higher wages.

– Ray Milici, worker at Stop & Shop in New Haven, Conn. The union there reached a contract settlement Feb. 14, averting an impending strike.
Milici can be reached at