Stop & Shop workers hope for new contract as the strike enters its eighth day.
Stop & Shop employees across New England began their eighth day of strikes today against the billion dollar corporation whose new contract proposal would significantly decrease their healthcare and retirement benefits as well as their take-home pay.
“They’re trying to double and triple what we pay every week,” Joe Renaldi, assistant grocery manager at the Hamden Stop & Shop, said. “They’re trying to double and triple our deductibles that you have to hit before they’ll cover it (medical expenses). They want to make Sunday a regular payday (as opposed to paid overtime).We can’t stand for it.”
Over 31,000 workers across 249 stores in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts took part in the strike.
Jorge Cabrera, The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) representative for the striking workers said, “This strike is about basic dignity and respect. This is a multi-billion dollar company that made $2 billion in profits last year, and got a huge over $300 million tax cut,” Cabrera said. “All we’re asking is to make sure that they keep these workers with good health insurance, a decent pension so they can retire, and good wages so they can provide food for their families.”
Other labor Unions such as The American Federation of teachers (AFT Connecticut) and The American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees (Council 4 AFSCME) came out on Monday, April 15, and donated $2,500 each to a fund supporting the striking workers. Others have also brought food, drinks and other supplies to help those on the picket lines.
Jan Hochadel, the president of AFT Connecticut said, “We are proud to stand with the 31,000 members of UFCW on strike across New England. They deserve to maintain what they’ve worked so hard to achieve — a middle-class life for their families,” Hochadel said. “When a profitable corporation like Stop & Shop tries to rob its employees of their shot at the American Dream, our members will rise up in solidarity. That’s what the ‘U & I in Union’ is all about.”
Hochadel and Jody Barr, the executive director of AFSCME, both have said that their respective organizations will donate $500 per week to the strike fund. They will also reach out to other labor unions to solicit donations for the striking Stop & Shop workers.
“These union members are taking a bold and courageous stand for workers everywhere,” Barr said. “Their fight for a fair contract and for dignity on the job is our fight. Our union members stand behind them because we recognize that we are in this together.”
The support from the unions collectively has been overwhelmingly positive and their contributions up to this point have not gone unnoticed, said Jessica Petronella, UFCW Local 371 organizing director.
“We are incredibly grateful to Council 4 and AFT Connecticut for their generous contribution to the joint strike fund,” Petronella said. “This flood of support shows New England is a place that values hard-working union families and believes workers have earned the right to build a better life and community.”
Despite the efforts of the unions to support the picket lines, the workers are hoping that the strike will end soon so that they can get back to doing their jobs.
Renaldi said, “We want to go back to work. Everybody wants to work. But we can’t afford to take the cuts and everything that they want to do. We just want a fair contract.”
The general public might not understand why these workers are protesting instead of working. But for many of these employees, the proposed changes will change the course of their lives for the foreseeable future.
Renaldi said, “It’s all the health care and the retirement and all that. They just want to kill it. I mean I’m going to be retired in like four years, five years. Its big for me. It’s big for a lot of people here.”
Stop & Shop released a statement on its website acknowledging the strike and admitted that it’s not “business as usual”. The grocery store chain went on to say that it is hopeful that the two sides can come to an agreement in the near future.
“Stop & Shop recognizes the valuable role our associates play in creating a great experience for you, our customers. They are a part of your lives, a part of our community, and key to our success. That’s why it is so important to us to provide a fair contract to our employees who are members of the UFCW unions currently on strike,” the statement said. “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 serving you and the community.”
Asked how long the workers would continue to fight for a new and improved contract, Cabrera said, “As long as it takes.”