FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational

Note: The UFCW and Stop and Shop announced Monday morning that they have reached a tentative agreement. Details to follow.

At precisely 1:00 Eastern time on the afternoon of April 11th, 31,000 workers at 253 Stop and Shop grocery stores throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts walked off their jobs. The strike came after several months of failed negotiations in which Stop and Shop refused to retract an onerous set of demands for the elimination of premium pay for Sunday work, major cuts to pensions and dramatic increases in the amount workers would have to pay for health care.

Most of the strikers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the rest are members of the Teamsters. Truck drivers both union and non-union have honored the picket lines by refusing to make their deliveries, according to strikers at four picket lines in Bridgeport and Fairfield, Connecticut. The workers at those stores also report that no union members have crossed the picket line. Most stores are open as supervisors and a small number of replacement workers have been stocking shelves and working cash registers but business has taken a big hit.

Solid Public Support

Public support has been high and sympathetic supervisors have told strikers that the take for one 16-hour day at a store in Fairfield was a meager $2,000, a fraction of a normal day’s business. Some stores have cut their hours because business has been so bad. Officials and members of other unions have joined with strikers for rallies at stores in a number of locations, including Bridgeport and Fairfield. Local elected officials have come to union rallies and coverage on local television stations and in the Hearst dailies that dominate the newspaper market in Connecticut has been positive. An announcement was made at a picket line on the seventh day of the strike that community sympathizers and merchants have established a food bank where strikers can get free food.

From conversations with dozens of strikers, morale of union members is high eleven days in. Worker after worker expressed special gratitude for the overwhelming public support they’ve received. Shoppers who know many of the strikers by name from years of shopping have joined the picket lines and many have brought coffee, doughnuts, pizzas and other food and beverages to the strikers. Others have contributed gift cards good at other stores and local pharmacies and there are reports of people making cash contributions to picketers including one for $1,500. The UFCW has also set up a site for people to contribute to the strike fund.

$2 Billion Profits in 2018

Amidst the strikers’ enthusiasm, however, is an undercurrent of fear and resentment. There has been no strike at Stop and Shop for 30 years, and that one was of very short duration, so the vast majority of the chain’s workers are confronting the unbridled greed of their employers in such an open way for the first time. The Stop and Shop stores are among many owned by the Dutch conglomerate Ahold Delhaize which reported $2 billion in profits in 2018.

Despite such profits and despite the fact that Stop and Shop is far and away the dominant grocery store chain in New England (and which also owns stores in New York and New Jersey that are covered by a different contract and thus not on strike), Ahold is demanding significant givebacks. The cuts in pensions and health coverage particularly rankle the strikers; the company’s current demands, for example, include a fourfold increase in the amount workers will have to pay in co-payments for doctor’s visits.

Minimum Wage Pay for New Workers     

Picketers expressed a mix of astonishment and anger that a massive company that is doing so well would utterly refuse to share any portion of that wealth and instead demand significant givebacks. New hires, all of whom are part-time, start at $10.10 an hour. Stop and Shop has consciously cut the number of full-time positions, and stipulations that the company forced through in previous contracts make accepting a full-time promotion far less attractive than it could be.

“It takes years before you can even think about getting a full-time position,” said Rafael Quiles at the picket line outside one of the stores in Fairfield. “And if you do go full-time, the company has the right to transfer you to any store in the state that it wants to.” He and others said the company does precisely that in order to discourage others from seeking full-time.

“Many people who take full-time jobs go back to part-time a short while later because they don’t want to be moved to a store far away,” added Gin Palladino, a ten-year veteran who lives just a few blocks from the store where she works. “I’d rather work part-time here and get another part-time job close to home than have to travel a long distance to work full-time.”

Kizzy Lewis is a full-timer who has worked in 12 stores in her 25 years at Stop and Shop. “They had me working as far away as Stamford and at other stores all over Fairfield County,” she said. “After all these years, I hope this is my last one.” Lewis also ridiculed the gas allotment the company pays for those it transfers, pointing out that the worker is responsible for the first 15 miles both to and from work.

Workers Struggling Amidst Fabulous Wealth

For many workers, hourly wages that are equal to or just a little above the federal minimum do not go far. Consider that Fairfield County is one of the wealthiest and most expensive areas in the country where the contrast between the Super Rich who live in places like New Canaan and Greenwich and workers at Stop and Shop couldn’t be starker. A number of strikers live in Bridgeport, the least expensive housing market in the area, but even rents in Bridgeport can be as high as $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. For people making $10.10 per hour, that is out of reach. People spoke of co-workers well into their 20s who live with their parents or other family members because they cannot afford to live on their own.

As with so many workers in the United States today, some of the strikers have more than one job. One man on the picket line said he averages 65 hours a week between his two jobs and is still barely making ends meet. A woman striker said she’s negotiating with her boss at her other job about getting more hours if the strike lasts.

It’s important that the Stop and Shop strikers win, just as it was important that the tens of thousands of teachers around the country won their strikes in the last year. It’s also important, though, that workers, their supporters and allies and union staffers who are so inclined take a long, harsh look at the state of things. The Stop and Shop workers’ strike is essentially defensive; they are resisting the company’s attempts at more takebacks and the union, according to workers, is putting forward few demands of their own. So no noteworthy wage increases or other improvements await them even if they score a complete victory. In the short term at minimum, their lives will continue to get harder.

Winning and Seeds of Greater Possibilities

There are, however, seeds of greater possibilities and future victories in the strength and togetherness the workers are experiencing in their strike. By virtually every account including those by sources generally hostile to unions, workers and strikes, the Stop and Shop strike has been overwhelming successful. The company is losing money in a big way, for one, and the hard line it has drawn has raised the awareness of many strikers: about their relationship to their employers, about the power of collective action, about the power of an entire workforce withdrawing its labor, about how perilous life in the 21st century United States has become for the working class.

Speaking about the experience of the strike thus far, one worker said the following: “Most of us like our jobs because we have so many regular customers who make it feel like a community and they far outnumber the customers who make our lives difficult. What really makes it hard to like your job is not the customers who give you a bad time but knowing that you’re getting a bad deal from the company. The pay is too low, the benefits aren’t enough, working on weekends is mandatory, all that stuff. And then to see that they want to cut our pensions even further, make us pay more if we go to the doctor, cut Sunday premium pay and give us nothing in return for all that … it’s too much. All these people you see on this picket line and all the other picket lines at all the other Stop and Shop stores, none of them is ever going to forget this.”

Asked if he meant the togetherness of the strikers or the conduct of the company, he said simply, “Both.”

Perhaps one big lesson that can reverberate far and wide beyond Stop and Shop is the power of the strike. After years and years where the number of strikes dwindled to a pitifully small number, accompanied by a barrage of negativity from media and political elites, workers are beginning to see that it is one of the most effective ways to fight back. That’s true of teachers, nurses and other healthcare workers, electrical workers at Wabtec in Erie, grocery store workers throughout southern New England. Equally large challenges will be to bring that fighting spirit and solidarity into the workplace and the union hall as well as for workers from a variety of workplaces both union and non-union to build organizations of mutual support where they can also strategize about how to build a different kind of society.

 

More articles by:

Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who writes for Z Magazine, CounterPunch and many other publications and websites. He can be reached at andypiascik@yahoo.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 18, 2019
Olivia Arigho-Stiles
Protestors Massacred in Post-Coup Bolivia
Ashley Smith
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Macho Camacho: Jeffery R. Webber and Forrest Hylton on the Coup in Bolivia
Robert Fisk
Michael Lynk’s UN Report on Israeli Settlements Speaks the Truth, But the World Refuses to Listen
Ron Jacobs
Stefanik Stands By Her Man and Roger Stone Gets Convicted on All Counts: Impeachment Day Two
John Feffer
The Fall of the Berlin Wall, Shock Therapy and the Rise of Trump
Stephen Cooper
Another Death Penalty Horror: Stark Disparities in Media and Activist Attention
Bill Hatch
A New Silence
Gary Macfarlane
The Future Wilderness Under Trump: Recreation or Wreckreation?
Laura Flanders
#SayHerName, Impeachment, and a Hawk
Ralph Nader
The Most Impeachable President vs. The Most Hesitant Congress. What Are The Democrats Waiting For?
Robert Koehler
Celebrating Peace: A Work in Progress
Walter Clemens
American Oblivion
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail