The air was stale. Produce bins were less than full, and the fruit looked tired. There were no green bananas.
The robot was parked in its station, its two pairs of green lights glowing. Checkout lanes were empty, but the lights were on at the Meadowbrook Stop & Stop location Monday morning and the manager was there to help if needed. The in-store Citizens Bank branch and the store pharmacy were also staffed and operating.
Outside, store employees with strike signs hanging from their necks gathered in groups to chat, sip coffee and wave enthusiastically when motorists on Warwick Avenue honked their horns.
This was the scene on the fifth day of the International United Food and Commercial Workers strike that has impacted more than 240 stores in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Overall, an estimated 31,000 full- and part-time employees are on strike.
There were no answers to be found on the picket line or from store management as to the status of talks or when the strike might come to a halt. Those questions were referred to corporate and union headquarters. Both sides reported negotiations were ongoing as of press time Monday.
Nonetheless, there was surprise that the strike has lasted this long and lots of speculation over the company’s intentions. There was also consensus that the strike hasn’t been good for anyone. Some of those picketing talked of lost wages and what the strike might mean to Stop & Shop on the eve of the traditionally heavy pre-Easter shopping period.
Union representatives listed wages, pensions and benefits as sticking points to a contract.
“We just want to keep what we have,” said one picketer outside the Meadowbrook store on Monday.
On Friday at the Greenwich Avenue store, union representative Rick Cappalli listed a number of issues, including corporate efforts to cut pensions for new employees and implement a maximum pay of $18 an hour regardless of tenure.
A spokeswoman for the International UFCW said the issues at hand are healthcare, retirement benefits and take-home pay. She said that proposed changes to healthcare and retirement benefits are making any marginal wage increases moot.
In an online message posted April 12 to associates, Stop & Shop president Mark McGowan said he and corporate leadership are committed to “getting a fair new contract in place for all our associates in New England.” He goes on to say, “Our offer provides pay increases for all associates, excellent health coverage with deductibles that would not change, increased contributions to the employee pension plans and no changes in paid time off or holidays for current associates.” Summary fact sheets are posted on the site.
“Importantly, the offer also maintains a responsible balance in rewarding our associates, protecting jobs and serving our customers in a dramatically changing, mostly non-union environment. Stop & Shop has been an industry and community leader for more than 100 years, and we have every intention of remaining so for many years to come,” McGowan writes.
(With reports from Ethan Hartley)