CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s now been six days since Stop & Shop employees walked off the job and there’s no apparent end in sight to the contract negotiations between the company and union leaders.
The workers were back on the picket line Wednesday outside supermarkets around New England. Some of the stores have been closed during the strike while others are operating on a limited basis with temporary workers.
Meanwhile, the two sides are meeting behind closed doors at the Graduate Hotel, formerly known as the Biltmore, for negotiations.
The United Food & Commercial Workers union called the strike to oppose what it considers to be an unfair contract offer and proposed cuts to take-home pay and benefits.
Stop & Shop officials have disputed that, saying they’re offering pay increases across the board along with increased pension contributions.
“Stop & Shop’s comprehensive 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,” Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan previously said in a statement.
“It also does this while maintaining a responsible balance in rewarding our associates, protecting jobs and serving our customers in a dramatically changing, mostly non-union environment,” he continued.
The union argues increases to health insurance premiums mean take-home pay won’t actually go up. Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak Thursday at a rally in support of the workers outside the Stop & Shop in Dorchester, Mass.
Workers demonstrating outside the Stop & Shop in Bristol told Eyewitness News that barely any customers have crossed the picket line over the past few days. They also said they didn’t expect the strike to last this long.
“We really thought that we could come to some agreement,” said one worker, Elena Tainsh. “We’re not asking for outrageous things, clearly. We want a decent retirement and we’d like to have affordable health coverage.”
Tainsh, a full-time employee who’s been with Stop & Shop for 35 years, said she and her coworkers are worried about not getting paid and at this point just want to get back to work. She also noted that if the strike reaches day 8, they’ll each receive a $100 stipend from the union.
“Every single one of us is petrified because we’re not getting paid,” she said. “We will get a minor stipend from the union but most people cannot live on $100 a week.”
“I’ve been working paycheck-to-paycheck my entire life. I depend on this job,” added Shaunna Beck, a Stop & Shop employee of 10 years. “I’m so worried right now. I can’t sleep — I’m stressed out.”
Should any of the workers file an unemployment claim during the strike, the R.I. Department of Labor and Training will “process them accordingly and will make a determination,” a spokesperson said.
As employees miss paychecks, the company also misses out on profits, according to Burt Flickinger, a consumer industry and labor history analyst. He said this week leading up to Passover and Easter is particularly important for grocery stores.
“If the strike lasts through tomorrow and Friday, we estimate that Stop & Shop will have lost $20 million in the first week and first weekend,” Flickinger said.
He also noted that this strike is unprecedented for the company.
“We went through our records at Cornell University. The longest strike in Stop & Shop’s history only lasted four hours in 1988.”
Stop & Shop gas stations are also closed due to the strike. A company representative said customers will be given a 30-day extension before their gas points expire, and those points are also good at Shell gas stations.