Local Stop & Shop workers to vote on strike authorization

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At a membership meeting this Sunday, the union representing Stop & Shop workers in southeastern Connecticut and throughout the state will vote on whether to authorize a strike over contract disputes.

The meeting for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 919 is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Hartford Hilton Hotel.

Local 919 is one of five UFCW locals throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Stop & Shop's three-year contract with these locals expired Feb. 23.

The locals, which represent more than 30,000 workers, began meeting in Providence for bargaining sessions in January. Negotiations continued on Friday, and additional sessions are scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday.

The five presidents wrote in a message to members last month, "We have never seen this level of disregard and disrespect for workers in our many years of negotiations with Stop & Shop."

No local has yet called a strike, but the Boston-based Local 1445 voted on Feb. 24 to authorize one, as did the Westport-based Local 371 on Wednesday. The Rhode Island local and the second one in Massachusetts are also taking strike authorization votes this Sunday.

Stop & Shop said in a statement that while it hopes to reach new contracts without a strike, it has plans to "minimize disruptions" to stores — which will remain open — in the event of a strike. This includes deploying corporate personnel and temporary replacement workers.

"We're pretty clear that the way it's going, everybody has had enough," Mark Espinosa, president of the Farmington-based Local 919, told The Day on the phone.

UFCW workers take umbrage with multiple parts of Stop & Shop's contract proposal: increased costs for health insurance, changes to premium pay for those working Sundays, and the lack of raises.

Stop & Shop said the average hourly wage for full-time associates in the states involved in the negotiations is $21.30, including union department managers. Espinosa said he doesn't debate that many full-time employees "make very good middle-class incomes" but declined to get into specifics on numbers.

According to a Stop & Shop fact sheet, health care deductibles for individual coverage have averaged $200 per year since 2007, and associates pay 8.2 percent of the cost of individual coverage on average.

Stop & Shop has proposed a $1,500 deductible for individual coverage, and for employees to pay 20 percent of plan costs for individual coverage and for covering dependent children.

The company said this is to "better reflect the competitive environment," as a Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed that other retail employees pay 20 percent of the cost of individual coverage, on average.

Stop & Shop's proposal also would offer insurance coverage only to spouses who don't have access to a group plan through their own employers, and store associates would pay an additional $250 per month for their spouses to participate.

Aside from health insurance, the proposal would continue to offer time-and-a-half pay for full-time associates, the fact sheet says. But Local 919 business representative Jason Frechette — who is the agent for the stores in Groton, Norwich, East Lyme and Waterford — said some people are grandfathered in for double-time.

Frechette said the locals set the industry standard, and his view is that Stop & Shop — whose parent company is Ahold Delhaize — is trying to make it less enticing for non-union employees to want what union employees have.

Ahold Delhaize also owns Giant, Food Lion and Hannaford, and therefore encompasses non-union workers. Its CEO recently said the supermarket operator is on track to meet its target of 20 percent growth in U.S. online sales, Reuters reported. Ahold Delhaize reported net sales of about $18.5 billion, up 3 percent, in the third quarter of 2018.

e.moser@theday.com

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