Unionized Stop & Shop workers to decide on contract offer or strike vote
PITTSFIELD — Unionized employees at Berkshire County's three Stop & Shop supermarkets are poised to vote Sunday to either ratify a new contract offer or authorize a strike vote.
Members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1459 of Springfield are scheduled to vote at 10 a.m. at the Castle of Knights in Chicopee.
Stop & Shop employees in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have been working under an expired contract since Feb. 23 and are not close to reaching an agreement, according to a statement from the union. The company employs about 31,000 people in those three states.
The five locals representing the workers across the region decided to hold separate meetings to consider the possible authorization of a strike because recent negotiations between union and management have stalled.
If the union votes in favor of authorizing a strike Sunday, it does not mean that union members will immediately walk off the job.
"It's just an authorization vote so that we can go out at any time," said Dean Ethier, secretary-treasurer of the Local 1459.
According to Local 1459, Stop & Shop has proposed massive reductions to workers' current benefits, including dramatic cuts to current health and welfare and pensions plans, cuts in paid holidays, vacations and sick days for new hires, and bonuses in lieu of cost-of-living wage increases.
"For the past nine years we've been bringing back takebacks to our members," Ethier said, referring to previous contract negotiations. "This year, we're not going to."
Local 1459 represents all of Berkshire County's unionized Shop & Shop employees except those in the meat department, which is represented by another of the local bargaining units. All five New England-based locals will be taking similar action Sunday, he said.
Shoppers at the Berkshire stores — two in Pittsfield and one in North Adams — should not notice any changes in the store operations, Ethier said.
"We may hold rallies," he added.
Stop & Shop is the only large unionized food retailer that is still operating in New England. According to information on the chain's website, Stop & Shop's labor costs are having a major impact on the company's ability to compete in a fundamentally changing market. Employees pay far less for health care than workers at most other companies, the company states.
Full-time Stop & Shop union associates in New England are among the highest paid in the industry, according to Stop & Shop. The chain says it has proposed pay increases for full-time associates and competitive wages for part-time associates.
"No one's pay would be cut," Stop & Shop said in a statement.
Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6224.
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