The union representing Stop & Shop workers rejected a “final offer” from the company, but negotiations are continuing with the help of a federal mediator, according to leaders from United Food and Commercial Workers International.

A coalition of negotiators from the workers’ union wrote in a message that a final offer “doesn’t necessary mean ‘last offer,’ so there may still be room to negotiate.”

Stop & Shop workers have been without a contract since their last three-year agreement expired on February 23.

The UFCW represents more than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. All five UFCW unions—including Local 328, which serves workers on Cape Cod—have authorized labor leaders to call for a strike if they believe it is necessary.

“We are determined to make sure that every Stop & Shop customer hears and knows the truth—that Stop & Shop’s proposal will have a terrible effect on 31,000 hardworking employees and impact the service they are able to provide in the stores,” the five union presidents said in a joint statement on Sunday.

Key issues in the contract negotiations are wages and healthcare, according to union officials. They say Stop & Shop’s proposal would replace “real wage raises” with bonuses, make cuts to healthcare benefits, and increase workers’ weekly contributions to their healthcare benefits, according to a March 28 statement from the negotiating coalition.

Stop & Shop said last week that its latest offer included across-the-board pay raises, increases in company contributions to the UFCW’s pension fund, and “excellent” healthcare benefits that qualify as federal gold level. The company also said that healthcare costs for associates would remain “far below” what employees pay at other companies.

A Stop & Shop spokeswoman previously said that the grocery chain competes with stores such as Market Basket, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans, which are non-union and have much lower labor costs.

The UFCW leaders said the contract offer is unacceptable and emphasized the integral role of employees in running a successful business.

“Given your hard work, the level of customer service you provide, and the personal sacrifices you make every day to make this company a success, this proposal is an insult,” reads the message from the negotiators, which was released on March 28. Union officials have reminded workers to bring warm clothes and comfortable shoes with them to work in case a strike begins.

Stop & Shop said in a statement that it remains “ready and available” to meet with union representatives.

“We will continue good-faith bargaining and hope to reach fair new contracts as quickly as possible that both recognize and reward the great work of our associates and enable Stop & Shop to compete effectively in the rapidly changing, mostly non-union New England grocery market,” the statement reads.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation also expressed their support for the Stop & Shop workers in a letter published on April 2. The lawmakers said it was time for Stop & Shop and the UFCW to reach a fair contract agreement.

“To be clear, we strongly support the tens of thousands of UFCW members who work at Stop & Shop stores in New England and deserve fair wages and retirement benefits,” they wrote.

“However, it has come to our attention that cuts to workers’ take-home pay, healthcare and retirement may be under consideration,” they continued. “If true, this would be highly alarming. As you know, your employees have been critical to the company’s success and should be compensated accordingly.”

The letter is signed by all nine members of the Massachusetts delegation, including Rep. William R. Keating (D-Massachusetts), who lives in Bourne and whose district includes Cape Cod.

Union officials anticipate releasing an update soon after discussions with Stop & Shop and the mediator.

Source: Cape News