In the 30 years she has worked at Stop & Shop, Linda Fry of Warwick never thought she would walk a picket line.
Now, she and her co-workers are wondering when they will return to work as the impasse between the company and the International United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Unions (328, 371, 1445, 1459 and 919) stretches into a second week.
The strike affects more than 240 stores in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Management staff is keeping most of the stores open as the 31,000 union members are on strike.
Fry, who is a full-time manager of the deli at the Greenwich Avenue store, remains hopeful a settlement will be reached by Easter. She had planned not to work Easter, but now knowing she won’t get paid for this week she would welcome the opportunity to get back to her job.
“I hope to get back before the income tax return runs out. I’ve got a mortgage to pay,” she said.
Fry said she is guaranteed 40 hours a week and takes home about $700 a week.
Those workers on the picket line said they received their direct deposit wages this Wednesday for their work before the strike. They questioned how employees would get their paper checks, which are expected to arrive today, if Federal Express workers don’t cross the picket lines and they are not meant to enter the stores.
Fry has no way of knowing how a new contract might impact her, but she suspects it may not be as dramatic as others since she intends to retire this summer.
“Leave it to me to plan to retire and be on a picket line,” she joked.
Her concern is for younger fellow employees and how they might be impacted by any changes in the pension plan.
Steve Fury, who worked for 18 years at the Narragansett store – and then, after a hiatus that took him out west, returned to Rhode Island and Stop & Shop – questioned how he might make out. A Coventry resident, he depends on the bus to get to work. He makes $10.40 an hour.
Fury did his best to shape up the two-dozen picketers outside the store. Scanning the line where strikers huddled in groups or sat in the sun in chairs, he declared the strike isn’t a social event.
“We look defeated,” he said.
The observation refueled his chant to motorists as they drove in front of the store – “striking workers, shop somewhere else.”
“Fight the corporate greed and they bought all those robots,” he added.
On Tuesday, the union and company broke with their previous silence over particulars of negotiations, signaling to some that mediation wasn’t working. Strikers didn’t take it as a good sign.
In an email to the news media, Stop & Shop president Mark McGowan outlined the company’s proposal and issued a letter to customers.
“The wages, healthcare, and pension offer for all of our employees – full- and part-time, across all stores – are among the best for New England retail and supermarket associates. This contract offer is no exception. That’s why we are committed to continued discussions until a fair and reasonable result is achieved. We are committed to resolving our labor negotiations as quickly as possible so that our employees can return to their jobs and we can get back to better serving you and the community,” he writes.
The union countered, “Stop & Shop can buy as many ads as they want, but they can’t change the facts. Stop & Shop’s latest proposal will drastically increase out-of-pocket health care costs, kick approximately 1,000 employees’ spouses off of their health care plan, and make it more challenging for 31,000 people to provide for themselves and their families. If the company’s most recent offer becomes a reality, every working family, neighborhood, consumer, and community will be hurt.”
The union listed the following objections to the Stop & Shop offer:
Requiring the average full-time employee to pay an additional $893 in weekly health care premiums over three years and the average part-time employee with employee-only coverage to pay an additional $603 in weekly health care premiums over three years; reducing the monthly pension benefit for many newly hired full-time employees by 32 percent and reducing the monthly pension benefit for many part-time employees by up to 72.2 percent; kicking off approximately 1,000 employees’ spouses from their family health care plan if the spouse is offered health care coverage by their employer, regardless of cost or quality of care; and phasing out time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays for current part-time workers and eliminating it entirely for new part-time workers (approximately 75 percent of Stop & Shop's workforce is part time).
Picketers at the Greenwich Avenue store said that delivery trucks turned away Wednesday and, according to their information, most perishables have been removed from shelves.
They reported that the Providence Canteen Truck that provides food and beverages at fires for firefighters stopped by Wednesday morning and cooked them breakfast.
Fry is optimistic.
“I don’t think [the company] is trying to break the union. I’m going to have faith. I’m going to keep the faith.”