Stop & Shop employees in New England are officially on strike.
At 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time today, 31,000 Stop & Shop workers who are members of United Food & Commercial Workers Locals 328, 371, 919, 1445 and 1459 walked off the job, according to a news release sent to Grocery Dive from the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
The Stop & Shop employees are protesting the company’s "proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health care, take home pay, and customer service as well as unlawful conduct," the release said.
The strike impacts operations at more than 240 stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
"We have temporarily closed some stores in order to secure them for the safety of our customers and our associates, and we are working as quickly as possible to reopen them," said Stop & Shop spokesperson Jennifer Brogan in an interview with Grocery Dive. "We have hired temporary replacement workers and we have also deployed corporate Stop & Shop personnel."
In the greater Boston region, customers told the local CBS affiliate that they were asked to leave their groceries behind and exit the stores. Another customer reported that she would go to a diferent grocery store rather than cross a picket line. In Stamford, Connecticut, customers went into a local store to shop but found no one working the registers.
Brogan said that some stores had already reopened as of 2:20 p.m.
Stop & Shop and UFCW local unions have been in negotiations over new contracts since January 14, and Stop & Shop employees have been working on expired contracts since February 24.
According to a statement on Stop & Shop’s website, negotiations with assistance of federal mediators are continuing. “We are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores,” the statement said.
Earlier this week Stop & Shop publicly released the details of its final offer to union members so customers and associates would have access to complete facts, the retailer said on its website.
The proposed contract included a $75,000 buyout for union members who voluntarily retire and have worked full-time for the grocery store for at least 25 years, if a deal was reached yesterday. Although an agreement was not reached by that deadline, the buyouts are still included in the offers published on Stop & Shop’s website, which was updated today.
According to UFCW’s press release, the proposal includes "drastic cuts" that would lead to an additional $893 in weekly healthcare premiums over three years for the average full-time worker and an additional $603 for the average part-time worker. The union said that the proposed contract also reduces the monthly pension benefit for many newly hired full-time employees by 32%, and many part-time employees would receive an average general wage increase of less than 2%.
"Our 31,000 members who work at Stop & Shop work incredibly hard to provide the great customer service that has made the company billions of dollars in profit and the top grocery store in New England," a joint statement from the five unions said. "Instead of a contract that recognizes the value and hard work that our members provide every day, Stop & Shop has only proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health care benefits and take home pay, while replacing real customer service with more serve-yourself checkout machines."