Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com:
At 1 p.m. Thursday, more than 31,000 Stop & Shop workers across New England walked off the job.
“We are officially out on strike,” Jeff Bollen, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, one of the five local unions representing the Quincy-based grocery chain’s New England workers, said in a video message.
The work stoppage Thursday comes after nearly three months of negotiations between the company and UFCW leaders failed to produce an agreement on a new work contract. Stop & Shop’s contract with the union officially expired on Feb. 23, and the two sides have remained divided over wage levels, take-home pay, and retirement benefits.
As workers begin picketing outside the stores, union leaders are asking Stop & Shop customers to help them apply pressure on the company — by taking their business elsewhere.
Stop & Shop officials say they will continue to negotiate in “good faith” with the UFCW and have published their most recent contract proposals to each of the five unions on its website. According to the company, their proposals include “across-the-board” pay increases and continued generous health care and pension benefits.
“The unions proposed a contract that would increase the company’s costs,” Stop & Shop officials said Thursday. “This would make our company less competitive in the mostly non-union New England food retail marketplace.”
The union has a different view.
They say the company’s latest contract proposal includes “unreasonable wage and benefit cuts” that would diminish customer service. Noting that Ahold Delhaize earned $2 billion in profits last year and approved a 11.1 percent shareholder dividend increase just this week, UFCW leaders say their requests for more are “completely reasonable.”
According to the union, Stop & Shop also plans to reduce the number of cashiers and rely more on self-checkout lanes.
“Protecting health care coverage so you can keep your family healthy, adjusting wages to keep pace with regional cost-of-living increases, and maintaining pension contributions so you can retire with dignity is not too much to ask,” UFCW leaders wrote to members Wednesday. “It is what you have earned and deserve.”