The Stop & Shop Strike Is Showing There’s Still Power in a Union

Michael Arria April 16, 2019

Stop & Shop workers maintain a picket line while on strike on April 12, 2019 in Somerville, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Rough­ly 31,000 employ­ees of the north­east­ern gro­cery chain Stop & Shop have been on strike for near­ly a week across more than 240 stores in Mass­a­chu­setts, Con­necti­cut and Rhode Island. The work­ers, rep­re­sent­ed by the Unit­ed Food & Com­mer­cial Work­ers (UFCW), walked out on April 11 after vot­ing to autho­rize the strike in March. Dur­ing what is report­ed­ly the largest pri­vate sec­tor strike in three years, talks con­tin­ued Tues­day, with nei­ther side able to make an agreement.

Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold Del­haize, a retail com­pa­ny based in The Nether­lands. Ahold Del­haize is a $44 bil­lion com­pa­ny, and it’s saved mil­lions thank to the cor­po­rate tax breaks imple­ment­ed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Work­ers say that, despite these num­bers, Stop & Shop is attempt­ing to cut employ­ee pen­sions, raise the cost of health­care and roll back over­time pay. They’re also con­cerned about the company’s ris­ing use of automa­tion, which many believe will lead to inevitable layoffs.

The work­ers have received vast sup­port through­out the com­mu­ni­ty, while the stores have been forced to scrape by with tem­po­rary staff in many areas. An employ­ee named Temi­ka who works at a store in Prov­i­dence uploaded a Face­book video detail­ing what the cur­rent state of the store. I had a fam­i­ly mem­ber go in today and just take a look around,” she said, con­tin­u­ing, It looked ter­ri­ble. The pre­pared foods, the deli, the seafood depart­ment, the bak­ery — every­thing was shut down. The tables looked exact­ly the way they looked the day [every­body went on strike], which means they haven’t been rotat­ing anything.”

The cur­rent state of Stop & Shop should be a legit­i­mate con­cern for the com­pa­ny. The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia gro­cery strike of 2003 to 2004 led to the estab­lish­ment of new gro­cery chains and cus­tomers shift­ing their alle­giances after they began shop­ping at dif­fer­ent stores. The same trend could very well impact New Eng­land. Cus­tomer Gail Zul­la told a local news sta­tion that she used to shop at a Prov­i­dence loca­tion of Stop & Shop but had been pick­ing up her gro­ceries at the local rival Shaw’s. It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen a Shaw’s in my life,” she said, It’s like it’s a snow storm. There’s no bread, there’s noth­ing.” She said she’ll take her busi­ness else­where while the strike is under­way, adding, maybe I’ll stay at Shaw’s.”

When In These Times spoke with UFCW Local 1445 polit­i­cal direc­tor Jim Car­val­ho last month, he said that the union was hop­ing oth­er work­ers would be inspired by the actions of the Stop & Shop employ­ees. This appears to have born out. The strik­ing work­ers have received sol­i­dar­i­ty from faith groups, oth­er unions and local law­mak­ers. Rab­bi Jon-Jay Tilsen of Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven told The New Haven Reg­is­ter, Any food pur­chased by cross­ing a pick­et line or from scab work­ers is not kosher for Passover.” The Team­sters Coun­cil 10 has stopped pick­ing up trash for the com­pa­ny, and Mass­a­chu­setts Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor (and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date) Eliz­a­beth War­ren showed up at a pick­et line with cof­fee and donuts for the employ­ees. These giant com­pa­nies think they can knock unions back,” War­ren told the Somerville crowd on April 12. Unions are here to stay because when you’re fight­ing for your fam­i­ly, you stay in the fight until you win.”

After a video of Boston Bru­ins leg­end Ray Bourque leav­ing a Stop & Shop was post­ed on social media, the for­mer hock­ey play­er felt com­pelled to release a state­ment via Twit­ter. Being a union hock­ey play­er for 22 years I respect Unions and the work that they do.” Bourque tweet­ed. I have a med­ical con­di­tion that I was prepar­ing for this morn­ing and mis­tak­en­ly crossed the pick­et line at Stop & Shop. On my way out I apol­o­gized imme­di­ate­ly. I sup­port the employ­ees of Stop & Shop and once my med­ical con­di­tion is resolved I plan on return­ing to stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty and will walk the pick­et line along­side the mem­bers of the union.”

While union­iza­tion is declin­ing through­out the coun­try, Mass­a­chu­setts — where most Stop & Shop stores are locat­ed — has actu­al­ly expe­ri­enced a siz­able uptick. Accord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics, the amount of work­ers who con­sid­er them­selves part of a union went up by 16% from 2017 to 2018.

How­ev­er, Stop & Shop remains one of the only remain­ing union­ized stores in the indus­try, as big-box retail­ers like Wal­mart have put oth­ers out of busi­ness in recent years. As gro­cery indus­try ana­lyst Burt Flickinger recent­ly told The Boston Globe, Stop & Shop is the last, best, and final hope for the great Roman empires of union­ized food retail chains.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. cor­re­spon­dent for Mon­doweiss. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @michaelarria.
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