The union feels the company has been bargaining in bad faith.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Stop & Shop employees walked out at supermarkets across New England on Thursday afternoon, saying the grocery chain has "continued to bargain in bad faith."
"Everything we are asking for in a new contract is completely reasonable. Taking care of the workers that have made this company successful is the right for Stop & Shop to do," reads an update from leaders of United Food and Commercial Workers locals posted online on Thursday morning.
"We offered to form a subcommittee on negotiations as an effort to keep discussions with Stop & Shop going and negotiate in good faith."
Stop & Shop officials say they "remain ready and available to meet with the union locals at any time."
Employees at the North Adams store walked out about 1 p.m. on Thursday; store managers ushered customers out and locked the doors.
"They've been investing in infrastructure here but not in the workers," said Bill Laviolette, union steward and strike coordinator.
Workers held signs up along the sidewalk on Route 2 in front of the store as passing motorists beeped horns in support.
"The store has a little over 100 employees and we probably got about half of them out here right now," said one striker. "Just Marty's in the store," laughed a co-worker, referring the store's cleanup robot.
"They're not being forthright on how much money they're going to put away for the pensions ... they blame us because we're the only unionized supermarket in New England, but it's not a race to the bottom," Laviolette said. "We really decided there had to be a labor action and stand up to this corporate greed."
The union is objecting to changing the pension to a 401(k) it feels doesn't cover current future beneficiaries; Sunday premiums rather than time and a half (the company says the premium would be equal to time and a half for "current" employees); reductions in sick time and vacation time for future workers; and changes in health care contributions. Workers are also objecting to a rise in prepackaged meats over deli and butcher; the introduction of self-scan positions, carousels and Marty — the self-propelled robot that scours the aisles looking for spills and obstructions.
Stop & Shop, owned by Dutch multinational Ahold Delhaize, has countered that labor costs are having a "major impact" on the company's ability to compete in the changing market. National competitors like Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods/Amazon — non-union stores — have lower costs and access to lower prices, according to a press release put out by the company last month.
A federal mediator was brought in in an attempt to bring the two sides closer, but updates by union leadership indicated that there was a significant gap between the two parties.
In a statement on Thursday, Stop & Shop officials say no one's pay would be cut and that "Gold Level" health care benefits would continue for eligible associates and that the company increased contributions to the pension fund for vested associates.
On Thursday morning, the company claims it made suggestions to the federal mediator to keep talks going but that "The Locals provided no counter proposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans."
The locals have countered that the grocer makes a $2 billion profit and is targeting union workers unfairly.
"They wouldn't show us where they were losing money or why they were making such drastic cuts," said Laviolette. "In fact, they were the No. 1 market share for grocers here in New England. ... leadership just came down and told us it's time for a strike."
Local 1459 represents workers at the Stop & Shop on State Road and the stores on Dan Fox Drive and Merrill Road in Pittsfield. Stop & Shop says it has contingency plans in place to minimize disruption.
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