Operations at Berkshire Stop & Shops returning to normal after end of strike

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The Berkshire County Stop & Shop stores are slowly returning to normal operations after the supermarket chain and union leaders ended an 11-day-old strike on Sunday.

Members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1459 were back on the job Monday, cleaning the stores, restocking shelves and ramping up specialty services that had been missing since they started walking picket lines on April 11. The UFCW represents 1,300 Stop & Shop employees across Western Massachusetts, including 300 to 400 in Berkshire County.

On Monday afternoon at the North Adams store, one employee used a hose to spray down a cooler in the seafood section. Another placed meat in a freezer, while still others were placing apples on a shelf in the produce section, still largely empty after the strike.

In Pittsfield at The Stop & Shop on Merrill Road, few customers were walking the aisles as workers restocked shelves and prepared to fill the meat and dairy cases. All three Berkshire stores opened at 8 a.m., as they had during the strike, but will resume regular hours on Tuesday, according to local Stop & Shop management.

In all, 31,000 UFCW members in 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island who were on strike were asked to report to work Monday after management and union leaders reached a tentative three-year agreement on Sunday. Local 1459 and the other four unions involved have yet to say when the ratification votes will take place.

"Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities enjoy the best shopping experience possible and to keep Stop & Shop the number one grocery store in New England," the UFCW said. "The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members."

While the Stop & Shop union employees returned to work, the supermarket chain on Monday began working to regain the business of its loyal customers.

The company said in a statement, "We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop."

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During the strike, Stop & Shop reduced most stores to 12-hour days, closed bakery, deli, seafood and meat counters, shut down their gas stations, and only had self-checkout lanes open.

The limited offerings impacted Passover shopping in New England, as Stop & Shop is the region's largest supermarket chain and has deep roots in the local Jewish community. A number of rabbis from the Berkshires and the rest of Southern New England advised their congregations not to cross picket lines to buy Jewish holiday essentials.

Stop & Shop is a subsidiary of Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize, with 415 stores across the Northeast. Workers at company stores in New York and New Jersey were not on strike.

Multiple political public figures came out in support of the workers. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren stood on a picket line April 12 in Somerville, saying she would fight for the "dignity of working people."

Connecticut Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, supported Stop & Shop employees in Connecticut. Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met with workers outside a store in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood.

Two more Democratic 2020 candidates, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, visited stores in support of the workers as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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