HARWICH — If the smiles behind the COVID-19 masks of the employees at Star Market and Shaw’s on Cape Cod are even more difficult to discern these days, it may be because they have just taken a hit in their weekly pay check.
Comments about the pay reductions could be overheard in the aisles and at the cash registers of the Star Market in Harwich Port over the past couple of weeks. The move struck some patrons as odd, given that employees of grocery stores have been serving in essential rolls for nearly a year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cape Stop & Shop employees also lost an “appreciation pay” increase that had been instituted in reaction to the risks posed by the pandemic.
Shaw’s and Star Market set a temporary minimum base salary rate of $17 going into the 2020 summer season. That salary rate has now expired. The reduction impacts employee salaries by as much as $4 an hour.
“A lot of store employees are very upset. They are scared about how they are going to pay their bills while they continue to work in the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a Star Market employee who requested not to be identified out of fear of ramifications.
The employee also provided a copy of the following notice that was posted at the store:
“So you are aware we implemented a temporary rate for the 2020 summer season in this store. This rate was extended twice, the first time into November and most recently until the beginning of January. Effective 1/16/21 we are announcing the end to the temporary minimum base salary rate for all associates of $17 per hour in (store) #4596 Harwich. Your rate effective 1/16/21 will return to your previous rate of pay plus any GWI (general wage increase) or increase that would have been received during this time. Thank you for everything you have done all season and in the future.” It was signed “Store Director.”
Store Director Cassidy Cofran directed The Chronicle to Shaw’s community relations manager Teresa Edington for comment.
“At Shaw’s and Star Market, we are grateful for our associates and the important role they play in serving our local communities,” Edington wrote in an email. “To incentivize hiring associated with seasonal staffing needs Shaw’s and Star Market implemented a temporary increase to the minimum base salary rate for our Cape stores. We consistently communicated to the teams the temporary nature of the incentive, and associates were informed that the program would end on Jan. 16.”
The Star Market employees are not represented by a union. Stop & Shop employees are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.
There was a similar situation last summer at Stop & Shop after that company provided a 10 percent “appreciation pay” increase for employees in March as the stores experienced “panic buying” pressure at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The appreciation pay was given in recognition of the extra workload employees were experiencing, Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid explained in a letter to State Representative Sarah Peake, D- Provincetown, last summer.
When Stop & Shop discontinued the appreciation pay to employees last July, an employee in the Stop & Shop in Provincetown reached out to Peake for assistance. Peake wrote a letter to Stop & Shop management signed by 85 members of the General Court expressing concern for the decision to terminate the “appreciation” pay as the pandemic continued.
“The added stress, fear, and risk workers face about their health and safety has not abated and we believe they should continue being compensated for that additional hazard,” Peake wrote in her letter to Reid.
In his response, Reid said Stop & Shop has spent $110 million since March to ensure the safety of the employees and customers. The company continued the appreciation pay through July 4, he wrote, even though customer traffic and demands leveled off and the workload for the associates was less than what was experienced in March.
“Although the grocery industry has certainly changed as a result of COVID-19, the surge of customers and stockpiling that occurred in the beginning of the pandemic has dissipated and customers are returning to restaurants and more typical ways of shopping,” Reid wrote. “While Stop & Shop will not be reinstituting appreciation pay, we will continue to invest in our associates via benefits and other actions, as we always do, and prioritize associates’ health and safety.”
“We eventually got a response that basically told us to go take a hike,” Peake said. “They are not regulated by the state, so they will do as they wish.”
“The reason I’m sharing this is because sadly, I believe Shaw’s will do as they wish. Stop and Shop has already confirmed this… It’s really insulting to their hard working employees,” Peake wrote in an email to a local resident last week which was shared with The Chronicle.
Stop & Shop and the UFCW union worked out a subsequent agreement that provided a lump sum payment equal to 10 percent of all hours worked by union employees between July 5 and Aug. 22.
“Our advertised rates of $16 and $17 per hour for associates at our Cape Cod stores remain in place; the rate may vary slightly by store. This is not related to appreciation pay increases or prior bonus payments given to our associates in 2020 in recognition of their efforts throughout the pandemic,” Jennifer Brogan, director of external communications and community relations at Stop & Shop, wrote in an email sent to The Chronicle Tuesday.