Stop & Shop workers, customers happy to return
It was back to business on Monday as Stop & Shop workers — and customers — returned after an 11-day strike.
Stop & Shop and five unions representing 31,000 workers reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract Sunday. Although the agreement still needs a ratification vote by members, the unions asked workers to return to work.
On Monday morning, workers were stocking produce and perishables at the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop in New Haven, erasing the lingering aspects of the strike.
Cashier Helen C. Powell said she was glad to be back to work. Between 8 and 8:30 a.m., she had her first customers.
“I’m happy. Eleven days on that line — it was an experience,” Powell said.
Stop & Shop, and its parent company, Ahold Delhaize, declined to release the deal in its entirety or reveal major contractual elements. The United Food & Commercial Workers union followed suit in response to a Hearst Connecticut Media request, on grounds of giving its members the first opportunity to view the proposed contract.
The UFCW issued a statement, however, saying health care and retirement benefits for employees were preserved as part of the proposed contract, while wage increases are provided and time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members will be maintained.
Stop & Shop said in a statement that the tentative three-year agreements include “increased pay for all associates, continued ‘excellent’ health coverage for eligible associates and ongoing defined pension benefits for all eligible associates.”
John Merritt, an employee at the Westport Stop & Shop, said he felt relief when he first heard of the agreement reached by the unions and the company.
“We’re glad to be back and getting this place up and running again,” Merritt said as he was scanning items in the produce section. “Customer support has been excellent.”
In Greenwich, the picketing had ceased and shoppers crowded the aisles of the Stop & Shop on West Putnam Avenue, even though the shelves were not full, as was the case in many locations across the state.
Audrey Roco said she was happy to see the labor issue resolve. “It’s a good thing,” she said, loading up her vehicle. “There were a few items I wanted they didn’t have. Some of the shelves weren’t fully stocked.”
At many stores across the state Monday, the produce section was one of the worst hit, along with the deli and bakery.
The Stop & Shop on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport had slim pickings for shoppers like Glenda Torres and Susan Fehlinger, both of Bridgeport. Produce, deli, meats, dairy and the bread aisle were nearly bare.
“It’s their first morning back,” said Fehlinger, “so that’s to be expected.”
During the past two weeks Fehlinger mostly shopped at Whole Foods.
Torres spent the last two weeks mostly at Gala Foods, but preparing for Easter had her running around.
“I had to go to three or four other supermarkets to get what I would have gotten here,” she said. In addition to Gala, Torres did her Easter shopping also at Price Rite and Save-A-Lot.
At the Amity Road Stop & Shop in New Haven, customer Regina Wolf said she did not shop for groceries during the strike, preferring to subsist on what she had in stock. Her parents taught her at a young age not to cross a picket line, she said.
“I will not cross — from the time I was a child,” Wolf said. “Working people are trying to survive.”
In Norwalk, Elizabeth Gibbs expressed a similar sentiment.
“I’m very glad the strike is over, because I couldn’t shop there while workers were on strike,” said the Norwalk resident of more than 54 years.
Inside the Stop & Shop at 380 Main Ave. — one of two branches in the city — workers set about getting the store in working order as customers slowly trickled in. Around noon, employees could still be seen scrubbing away at a produce section devoid of any product, as they prepared for shipments expected to arrive later in the day or tomorrow. Workers throughout the store could be seen restocking bare shelves.
The strike rivals the Sikorsky Aircraft strike of 2006 as the largest impacting Connecticut over the past three decades. During the six-week strike at the Stratford helicopter manufacturer, 3,600 employees walked off the job, including a contingent in Florida. The next two largest strikes to hit Connecticut were by nursing home workers in May 2001 and construction workers in June 1994.
Victor Sagendorf, who served as the CWA Local 1298 strike captain in Danbury, said he was elated to hear that he and his colleagues would not have to strike a 12th day.
“It was euphoric. I couldn’t get to my phone fast enough to start calling all my fellow employees and spread the word,” said Sagendorf, a full-time meat-cutter at the Lake Avenue Extension Stop & Shop.
Sagendorf said it hasn’t been difficult to get back into the flow of things.
“The store manager was right there at the doors waiting for us, welcoming us in with open arms,” he said. “It’s all behind us now. Everybody’s just moving forward and getting back to business — doing what we do.”
Stop & Shop union steward Terry McCaffrey at Stamford’s Ridgeway Shopping Center also said he was happy to be back at work — especially after putting in longer hours on the picket line than he normally does at the store.
“We got what we wanted and we are able to keep our insurance intact,” McCaffrey said.
Customer Michael Mansi, of Stamford, said his daughter Emily works at a Stop & Shop in Seymour and he was proud of her. Mansi, who was going into the store to use the People’s Bank branch inside the store, said he was a union member himself and would not cross the picket line over the past week and a half.
“I’m happy they worked out their differences. I was impressed with the resolve of the union. They needed to stick together and they did,” Mansi said.
In Fairfield, the store-wide speaker announcements were back on Monday afternoon and the parking lot — which last week was nearly empty with less than 10 cars — had triple that amount at the 1160 Kings Highway cut-off Stop & Shop.
Sam Farina, one of the strike captains, said he was humbled by the support of the community and was happy to be back in the store.
“It was a very humbling experience,” Farina said as he was organizing oranges in the fruits section. “Both sides compromised and that’s what comes with negotiations.”
Staff writers Ben Lampert, Michael P. Mayko, Kendra Baker, Rob Marchant, John Nickerson, Pat Tomlinson, Humberto Juarez, Alexander Soule and Jim Shay contributed to this report.