Union calls end to Stop & Shop strike a ‘powerful victory’
After 11 days of employees on strike, Stop & Shop announced Sunday that “tentative agreements” were reached with local unions representing workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The company said in its Sunday statement that it will be happy to see its employees return to work “as the strike has ended.” Stop & Shop said they are three-year agreements, subject to ratification votes by members of each local union.
These agreements include: increased pay for all associates, continued health coverage for eligible associates and pension benefits for all eligible associates, according to the statement.
“Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the service they deserve,” the statement said. “We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”
There were no additional specifics provided.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) issued a statement, calling the end of the strike that began on April 11 a “powerful victory.”
“We are incredibly grateful to our customers and everyone who proudly stood together with us every day for a contract that invests in the communities we serve,” the statement said.
The UFCW statement said under the proposed contract, health care and retirement benefits are preserved, wage increases are provided and time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members will be maintained.
“Today is a powerful victory for the 31,000 hard-working 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 UFCW statement said.
Sunday morning, before word of the agreements became public, employees of the Stop & Shop on Newtown Road in Danbury said they were hopeful that talks were making progress and talked about wanting to get back to work.
Most Easter mornings, the parking lot of the Newtown Road store would be packed with cars as shoppers picked up last-minute items for the holiday, employees said. Instead, there were only about 25 cars in the huge parking lot, mostly belonging to the 15 or so workers picketing on the 11th day of the strike against the company’s contract proposal.
A topic of conversation among the employees in Danbury was the amount of money the company must have lost during a normally-busy week leading up to the Easter holiday.
Joe Heller, strike captain for UFCW Local 919 and longtime worker in the dairy department at the Newtown Road store said employees just wanted “a piece of the pie.”
More than 31,000 employees in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island walked off the job April 11 because they say proposed changes to health care premiums, pension benefits, wages, Sunday pay and more are unfair and would hurt workers.
The strikers stood on the side of Newtown Road holding signs that read “Don’t Stop, Don’t Shop, Don’t feed the greed” and “On strike: Unfair labor practices.”
The employees’ passion was just as clear on the 11th day of the strike as it was on day one.
“Do not go into Stop & Shop,” Joey Weston, who has worked for the company since 1992, shouted at passing cars. “There are plenty of places to do your shopping.”
Most customers have avoided the store since its employees went on strike. One shopper at the Danbury store on Sunday told a striker standing outside she needed one item.
“I can’t get it anywhere else,” the woman replied.
Jimmy Wilson, who has worked at the store for 2 1/2 years, encouraged drivers to honk their horns to send a message to Stop & Shop. Many did, with one passenger giving picketers a thumbs up.
“Help us fight this battle,” Wilson yelled. “We cannot do it alone.”
Wilson said he is close to retirement and has savings to get him through the strike, but he is not striking for himself.
“It’s not just for us,” he said. “It’s for the generations to come that will have our jobs.”
Despite their motivation, some employees talked about feeling tired. Heller said he had been picketing for 13 hours a day since the strike started.
“I felt it today when I got up,” he said, adding he was grateful the group would only be picketing until noon Sunday, when the store closed early for Easter.
While the employees were on strike, some employees and shoppers had tense interactions.
In Wilton, 30-year-old Bridgeport resident Shabrina Fudd was given a misdemeanor summons for second-degree breach of peace after an arguement with workers.
Wilton police said Fudd was accused of grabbing a phone from a Stop & Shop employee on strike, who was recording the argument at the store on River Road in Wilton on April 16.
Officers said their investigation showed that Fudd was arguing with the workers and became angry when she saw she was being recorded on video by one of the strikers — that’s when she grabbed the employee’s phone. There were no injuries reported. She’s expected in court on April 30.
In Wethersfield, things got a bit more serious.
On April 18, the eighth day of the strike, a man called a Wethersfield Stop & Shop and threatened to “shoot them (strikers) with an AK-47” when he learned they were still on strike.
Wethersfield police said the store manager reported the call around 6 p.m. that night.
The threat forced the evacuation of the Stop & Shop on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield and the strikers were brought inside as a precaution.
“An unidentified male subject called the store and asked if the employees were still picketing in front of the store,” Wethersfield police said. “After the manager stated that the employees were still in front of the store, the male stated he was coming to the store to shoot them with an AK-47.”
Several Wethersfield police units responded to the store and were on scene for about an hour. No injuries were reported, nor any acts of violence.
Although no arrests were made that night, Wethersfield police said detectives would continue to investigate the incident.