Stop & Shop workers go on strike

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Hundreds of unionized Stop & Shop workers walked off the job Thursday, after contentious contract talks broke off with management.

Members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1459 began forming picket lines around 1 p.m. at the three Berkshire stores — two in Pittsfield and one in North Adams.

"We're here for the long haul," said Melissa May, a strike coordinator with Local 1459.

Members of UFCW Local 371, the meat cutters union, which has a separate contract with the grocer, also joined the picket line in solidarity.

The stores on Merrill Road in Pittsfield and State Road in North Adams posted signs stating that the supermarkets were operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with "limited service" that included only the self-checkout registers. The Dan Fox Drive store in Pittsfield was closed except for the pharmacy and Citizens Bank branch office. It was not clear whether that store would be open Friday.

UFCW leaders representing 31,000 employees at stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island called for the strike hours after union negotiators walked away from the bargaining table. Local 1459 represents 300 to 400 Berkshire employees.

Through federal mediators, management tried to keep the union talking, but to no avail, according to a statement from Stop & Shop, a division of Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize.

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"[Thursday] morning the company made several suggestions to the federal mediators to encourage further bargaining," the statement said. "The mediators gave those proposals to the locals late in the morning. The locals provided no counter proposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans."

Union officials continue to hammer away at Stop & Shop for proposing massive reductions in worker benefits, such as health care, pension plans and bonuses in lieu of cost-of-living wage increases.

"We helped the company make $2 billion last year," May noted. "Their latest offer wasn't good enough and does nothing for the new people or those just promoted to full time."

Stop & Shop said its latest offer included across-the-board pay increases for all union workers, an increase to employee pensions, and health care benefits to eligible workers "at a fraction of what employees at other retail companies pay and with no changes to already unusually low deductibles."

The supermarket chain, the only large unionized food retailer still operating in New England, has said its workers are among the highest paid in the industry.

The striking employees have been working under a contract that expired Feb. 23. Members of the five UFCW locals already had authorized their leadership to call for a work stoppage if they didn't make any progress at the bargaining table.

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


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