Aisles were empty and Stop & Shop stores on the South Shore were unusually quiet Sunday as a worker strike entered its third full day.
At a Stop & Shop in Hingham on Lincoln Street there were two customers in the store at about 1:45 p.m. The deli counter was unmanned and refrigerators where meats and seafood are displayed were under-stocked. Outside, about 25 Stop & Shop union employees held signs trumpeting their cause.
Five local unions representing about 31,000 Stop & Shop workers throughout New England voted to walk off the job Thursday afternoon after weeks-long contract negotiations with the Quincy-based supermarket chain stalled. Union officials said the strike came after Stop & Shop came to them with a final offer that included more expensive insurance premiums, reduced pensions for new employees and scaled-back annual raises for new part-time workers.
Stop & Shop said in a statement that insurance premiums would stay well-below national averages in the new deal and that the company is offering pay increases for all workers.
The two sides met Saturday and Sunday in Providence to continue to try to iron out a new contract. The last deal expired Feb. 23 and contract negotiations started in January.
Stop & Shop employees are represented by five local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, or UFCW. Union spokeswoman Erikka Knuti said Sunday afternoon that the fact that the two sides were at the table was a good sign but it was unclear when a compromise would be struck.
“No one wants to go on strike. This is a last-ditch effort,” Knuti said. “There’s been some movement but right now it’s hard to tell what that means.”
Jennifer Brogan, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said that most stores would stay open through the strike with modified hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“As part of our contingency plans, we have deployed corporate personnel as well as temporary replacement workers to our stores across New England, and we are working hard to minimize disruptions for our customers,” Brogan said.
Bob Levangie, a union steward in Hingham said Sunday that community support for their strike has been “unreal” and that other unions have stopped by in solidarity.
“People have dropped off pizza, coffee. There’s been a lot of support,” Levangie said. “We’re so thankful. It’s been amazing.”
The parking lot of a Shaw’s supermarket on Middle Street in Weymouth was packed at about 2 p.m. while the parking lot of the neighboring Stop & Shop was nearly empty. Workers picketing there also said that they have felt a lot of support from people in the area and were eating pizza dropped off from a nearby store.
At the Stop & Shop on Southern Artery in Quincy about 40 picketers stood out near the streets with passersby honking their horns in support as they drove by at about 1:30 p.m.
One shopper, Paul Nolan of Boston, said there was a little less merchandise on the shelves of the Quincy store and very few people inside making inside making it easy to shop. Nolan said his familiarity with the store was why he decided to shop there, despite the strike.
“I’m used to what they have,” Nolan said.
Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan released a statement over the weekend saying that the company was committed to negotiating a fair new contract, and defended Stop & Shop’s last offer.
“The offer … maintains a responsible balance in rewarding our associates, protecting jobs and serving our customers in a dramatically changing, mostly non-union environment,” McGowan said. “Stop & Shop has been an industry and community leader for more than 100 years, and we have every intention of remaining so for many years to come.”
UFCW Local 328 represents workers on the South Shore, the Cape and Islands and Rhode Island and authorized a strike last month along with three of the other local unions. Local 328 President Tim Melia said in a statement Thursday that after 35 bargaining sessions, Stop & Shop’s offer was not acceptable.
“What the company has offered as a final proposal does not adequately fund our health and welfare or pension funds, nor does it provide all employees with an opportunity to grow together with the company,” Melia said.
Stop & Shop has more than 240 stores in New England including locations in Abington, Braintree, Brockton, Cohasset, Halifax, Hingham, Kingston, Norwell, Pembroke, Plymouth, Quincy, Stoughton, Weymouth and Whitman.
There are Stop & Shop locations in New York and New Jersey as well, but those workers are covered under a different contract.
The chain is owned by Ahold Delhaize, a Dutch company that reported an estimated $71 billion in net sales both in 2017 and 2018. Union officials said that the company’s profits totaled $2 billion last year.
Source: Patriot Ledger