OPED: Lots of support for striking workers
“Stop, Don’t Shop” was the message on signs carried by striking employees at Stop & Shop stores throughout Connecticut last week. So we were prepared when we drove into the Stop & Shop parking lot on Kings Highway Cutoff in Fairfield last Saturday. We had no intention of shopping, but needed to get some cash from the People’s Bank ATM inside the store to carry us through the weekend (journalists can empathize).
The workers gladly made way to let us into the building, and we expressed support for their cause. (I could do no less, as a former member of the Almalgamated Meat Cutters union at the old King Cole store in Bridgeport during my high school years.)
The striking workers seemed exuberant at the Fairfield store last Saturday. They were getting loads of support from area politicians, members of other unions, and the public. That very day, the Teamsters union, whose members drive the trucks that deliver food and other products to the stores, announced it was supporting the Stop & Shop employees. On Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Stop & Shop workers in Boston.
Talks this week between the grocery giant and the five union affiliates of the United Food & Commercial Workers produced no agreement.
The president of the Farmington-based UFCW Local 919 addressed union members Tuesday from the negotiating table in Providence, R.I., estimating Stop & Shop’s revenue losses at $20 million a day since the strike began.
On Tuesday, Stop & Shop apologized to the public for the incovenience the strike has caused.
Stop & Shop acknowledged that it has limited its offerings during the strike affecting 240 supermarkets in New England.
Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan said in a letter Tuesday that most stores would remain open for 12 hours, seven days a week. However, he said bakery, customer service, deli, seafood counters and gas stations would not be operational. Stop & Shop also said additional police and security personnel were at some stores as a precaution.
Negotiations through a federal mediator were ongoing this week, but the sides seemed far apart. And the wide-ranging support the striking workers were receiving seems to us to be based on the perception that the company’s demands are unfair.
“Stop & Shop can buy as many ads as they want, but they can’t change the facts,” the five United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Unions (328, 371, 1445, 1459, and 919) said in a statement.
“Stop & Shop’s latest proposal will drastically increase out-of-pocket health care costs, kick approximately 1,000 employees’ spouses off of their health care plan, and make it more challenging for 31,000 people to provide for themselves and their families. If the company’s most recent offer becomes a reality, every working family, neighborhood, consumer, and community will be hurt.”
Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, made more than $2 billion in profits last year and received a U.S. tax cut of $225 million in 2017. The company is claiming the proposed cuts are necessary but was refusing to provide financial information to verify that claim.
The UFCW local unions represent some 31,000 Stop & Shop employees. Stop & Shop and the unions that represent its employees are both huge.
But perhaps the reason the employees were getting so much support in Fairfield and other local towns is that residents see the workers as their neighbors, and supporting them in their struggle against a giant conglomerate seemed like the neighborly thing to do.
Tom Henry is the editor of the Fairfield Citizen