Wide community support gives 31,000 Stop & Shop workers a big win
A striking Stop & Shop worker and support embrace in a hug outside a New England store. | UFCW

HARTFORD, Conn.—Rebecca Lobo had a long shopping list when she pulled into the parking lot of her Hartford-area Stop & Shop recently. And then she came to a dead halt.

The former UConn and Women’s National Basketball Association star saw a picket line in front of her supermarket—one of 240 such lines all over New England starting on April 11.

The picketers were members of five United Food and Commercial Workers locals, representing the 31,000 workers at those stores. They were forced to strike by unreasonable management demands from a Dutch-owned grocery chain that earned millions of dollars in profits last year.

Those demands included: cuts in holiday and Sunday pay for part-timers, payment of a flat bonus rather than wage hikes, fewer sick days and holidays for new hires (in an industry with high turnover), a cut in take-home pay coupled with a health care premium hike of up to 90%, a 72% pension benefit cut, bonuses instead of wage increases, and the exclusion of “1,000 spouses from health care.”

Given all that, Lobo wasn’t about to enter her local Stop & Shop store.

“Arrived at my local grocery store with a long list and learned that the workers had just gone on strike,” Lobo tweeted the day the walkout began. “So I turned around and got back in the car. No way I’d cross that line. They are too good to me and my kids. Good luck on a fair resolution.  #AlwaysFriendly. #AlwaysHelpful.”

She wasn’t the only one.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who marched one day with the picketers, reported on April 23 that Stop & Shop lost 75% of its business during the strike it forced. And since drivers and deliverers joined stockers, deli workers, and checkout people on the picket lines, stores were left with empty shelves, too.

Mass community support forced the chain to finally bargain in good faith with UFCW, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on April 21, after 11 days of workers walking picket lines.

“The emotional ride through these last 11 days has been tremendous,” a Stop & Shop worker, named Judi, in Wallingford, Conn., said in a video UFCW posted on Facebook. “The only thing that kept us going was the customers stopping, waving, honking, beeping, bringing us food…Thank you.”

The result, according to a statement from UFCW, was a new three-year contract which its members are voting on. “The deal would keep employee health care and retirement benefits intact, provide wage increases instead of bonuses, and keep time-and-a-half pay for current employees who work on Sunday,” the union said.

“Today is a powerful victory for the 31,000 hardworking men and women of Stop & Shop who courageously stood up to fight for what all New Englanders want—good jobs, affordable health care, a better wage, and to be treated right by the company they made a success,” the union’s statement continued.

One analyst, citing federal Labor Department data, said the Stop & Shop strike is part of a recent trend of large groups of workers forced to walk out—come hell, high water, right-to-work laws, and management and/or political opposition. The Stop & Shop workers got political support, however.

DOL noted the number of forced strikes and lockouts last year involving at least 1,000 workers each hit 485, a mark unseen since 1986. West Virginia’s 25,000 teachers, who shut down every public school in the state for nine days, started the trend.

And they too, followed by other large groups of teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Los Angeles, and even at charter schools in Chicago, had massive public support.

Indeed, Mountaineer State parents and students led the bottom-up strike there—despite West Virginia’s right-to-work law and ban on public worker strikes—and parents led the mass walkout in Arizona over crumbling buildings, low pay, and 27-year-old textbooks, among other ills.

Workers in other industries also cheered the Stop & Shop workers on, saying they too suffer from the same corporate greed.

“Good for you. All of you. Our country is moving backwards in many ways. I work in an entirely different industry, but like most, ours is putting profit before employees. We are stressed, overworked, and fed up,” one tweeted.

Next up: 2,500 workers at 20 Manor Care nursing homes in Connecticut. They were forced to take a strike authorization vote on April 14, Service Employees Local 1199NE reported. It passed 1,449-78. If the two sides don’t agree, the workers plan to walk on May Day.

Low wages are the key issue. The workers seek 4% hikes this year and next, and have received raises of only pennies per hour, yearly, for the last decade, the union says. And nursing home workers have some of the hardest jobs in the state, SEIU adds.

“We need to raise wages in nursing homes. It is a labor of love…but you cannot pay the rent with love,” Local 1199NE President Bob Baril told a press conference in Hartford. “Workers voted for a strike because there must be change in their conditions. We refuse to be second-class citizens.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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