Stop & Shop Reaches Tentative Contract Deal, Ending Strike

(Bloomberg) -- Stop & Shop reached a tentative contract deal with the union representing more than 30,000 New England employees of the supermarket chain, ending the biggest private-sector strike in years.

“The agreement preserves health-care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members,” chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Sunday.

Jeff Bollen, president of one of the five UFCW locals that has been on strike, said in an interview that the deal was “a very, very good contract.” If approved by members, the agreement would provide across-the-board wage increases and defeat a slew of concessions sought by the company, he added.

“Everybody that’s working there is going to get everything they had,” he said.

The proposed contract would include some cuts for part-time employees hired at the company in the future, who would receive less in pension contributions, he said. They would also no longer be guaranteed time-and-a-half pay when working on Sundays during their first three years at the company.

Bollen said labor advocates might be able to persuade the Massachusetts legislature to reinstate a legal requirement that employees there get paid time-and-a-half on Sundays, which it ended last year as part of a deal to raise the minimum wage.

In a statement, Stop & Shop said, “Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the service they deserve. We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

Future Workers

The strikers, who walked off the job on April 11, had drawn support from several Democratic presidential contenders, among them Joe Biden, who rallied Thursday with employees behind a banner reading “One Job Should Be Enough.” A week before Biden’s visit, Massachusetts Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren brought doughnuts and coffee to picketers in Somerville, Mass.

Compensation for future workers was a flashpoint in the strike, with the company’s Dutch-Belgian parent Ahold Delhaize seeking to cut costs partly by providing less generous terms for employees who join Stop & Shop in the years ahead. While unionized companies battling non-union competitors have sought such “two-tier” arrangements in all sorts of industries, some unions that acceded to them have since battled successfully to phase them out.

The union had achieved a “major victory” in the face of efforts by management to “decimate” the contract, Bollen said. The UFCW didn’t say when the locals will vote on the proposal.

If ratified, the new contract should help the UFCW make the case for unionization to employees at Hannaford, another supermarket chain in the Northeast owned by Ahold Delhaize, he said.

Employee Richard Libby, a union shop steward, offered a more negative assessment, saying he was worried that letting some future employees be paid less than time-and-a-half on Sundays would incentivize the company to schedule those workers to avoid paying long-time employees the higher rate. UFCW has said that Stop & Shop mostly employs part-time workers.

“I’m not happy that I’m going to have to sit in front of a bunch of members and tell them, ‘Well we promised you no cuts and no givebacks and no concessions, but the new hires are going to get them –- sorry,’” he said.

Still, Libby said he expects his co-workers will approve the contract, and that the strike will have a positive legacy regardless: “Stop & Shop is going to be in trouble now, because the union members got a huge education standing in the street -- they know how powerful they are now.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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