PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Supermarket workers at Stop & Shop in southern New Englandratified a contract Sunday, ending weeks of difficult negotiationsover wages and benefits.
Members of five locals of the United Food and Commercial WorkersUnion in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut approved thethree-year contract by overwhelming margins in voice votes, unionofficials said.
"Our members were very, very happy with the agreement," saidJim Riley, secretary-treasurer of Local 328 in Providence. "Thesewere the most difficult negotiations in my life. The company heldthe line. It's very profitable, but they had concerns about costs,they felt labor costs are too high."
The Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop said in a statement thatits goal was to reach fair agreements that will allow it tocontinue to provide good jobs and serve its customers."We arepleased to have met this goal with these ratified agreements," thecompany said.
Stop & Shop operates more than 350 supermarkets in RhodeIsland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and NewJersey.
During negotiations, Stop & Shop said compensation thatincludes wages, health and pension benefits by nonunion competitorsis substantially less than what it pays. The company said itoperates in an "increasingly competitive and changing industry,"with groceries sold at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers inaddition to supermarkets.
Of the top 10 New England food retailers, only Stop & Shopis entirely unionized, the company said. Brian Petronella,president of Local 371 in Connecticut, said the contract, whichtakes effect retroactively to Feb. 21 when the previous agreementexpired, maintains a pension plan and keeps a health plan intactwith full-time workers paying slightly more for health care.
Employees will receive a lump sum ranging from $100 to $750depending on full- or part-time status and years of service.Employees also will receive scheduled hourly and weekly wageincreases between now and the end of the contract in 2013.
Meat cutters who are paid $30 an hour now will make more than$31 by the end of the contract, while newly hired clerks making $14an hour will be paid more than $15 an hour by 2013.
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