EAST HARWICH — After months of stalled talks, 31,000 union workers at Stop & Shop supermarkets, including the ones in East Harwich and Orleans, walked off the job last Thursday.
The employees, represented by Local 328 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, stood by the roadside and at store entrances and held picket signs. As of late Tuesday, there were no signs that the labor dispute would be ending soon, though federal mediators had stepped in to try and break the impasse.
“We don’t want anything more. We don’t want anything extra,” East Harwich employee Alannah Ledford said. “We’re fighting to keep what we already have.”
While many motorists driving by the picketers honked their horns in support, others crossed the picket line.
“We’ve received an overwhelming amount of support, but there were unfortunately a lot more cars in the parking lot throughout the day than I would’ve hoped for, which is pretty sad,” Ledford said.
There is a great deal of conflicting information about the particulars of the contract dispute. Ledford said Stop & Shop is seeking to eliminate overtime pay for Sundays and holidays, and has backed off pay increases.
“They want to do what they call bonuses, instead of increased wages,” she said. The company is seeking to reduce the workforce by 50 percent through the use of more self-serve cashier stations, and they are seeking to slash benefits, she added. The vast majority of workers are part-time employees “so they don’t have to really provide benefits,” Ledford said. At one point, she said she was working 48 hours per week but was still classified as a part-time employee.
“I feel like we’re already kind of getting the bare minimum,” she said.
In fact sheets published online, Stop & Shop officials refute some of the claims being made by the union, saying there would be no changes to health care deductibles under its current proposal to the union, and no changes in health coverage for employees’ spouses, unless they are eligible for coverage from their own employers. The corporation said there would be no changes to pensions or premiums for Sunday or holiday work.
Owned by parent company Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop argues that it is the only large food retail chain in New England with a fully unionized workforce, and must compete with much larger, non-union stores operated by companies like Walmart, Whole Foods/Amazon and Costco. An informational sheet published online argues that full-time Stop & Shop union workers in New England are among the highest paid in the industry, and indicates that all employees would see an increase in take-home pay under the proposed contract.
Ledford called the company’s proposal “almost inhumane.” A friend and co-worker has worked in the store’s bakery for 20 years, “and she depends on the health insurance for her family. If this was taken away, I feel like a lot of good people’s lives would really be torn apart,” she said.
Ledford thanked State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, for visiting workers and standing with them on the picket line.
The strike caused long lines of customers at Shaw’s supermarkets in several locations, including Harwich Port, Yarmouth and Orleans. The Orleans Shaw’s was expected to see a surge in business from Outer Cape shoppers who choose not to shop at the Provincetown Stop & Shop, the only large supermarket north of Orleans. An employee of Chatham Village Market said that store had also seen a slight uptick in business since the start of the Stop & Shop strike.
According to information on the company’s website, all Stop & Shop pharmacies are open for business, even if stores are closed. Many stores remain open with temporary workers.
In a notice to customers, Stop & Shop thanks patrons for their patience during the strike and said it is committed to resolving the dispute as quickly as possible.
Ledford said that union members are glad for the public support they’ve received on the Lower Cape.
“We’re such a small community. We’re your neighbors,” she said. Ledford said she understands people’s loyalty to a supermarket brand.
“But you should be loyal to your community, not big corporations,” she added.