Senator lends support to dug-in Stop & Shop workers

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Groton — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., lent his support to striking Stop & Shop workers here Tuesday afternoon, briefly joining scores of them picketing in front of the Route 12 store.

On the strike's sixth day, he'd already been to stores in Dayville and Montville and had others along the shoreline on his itinerary.

“I am 100 percent behind you,” Blumenthal announced as those picketing — members of Locals 919 and 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union — gathered around him. “I’m not going into a Stop & Shop until they treat you fairly — and you go back to work.”

He told the assembled that he’d spoken earlier in the day with Mark McGowan, president of the Quincy, Mass.-based supermarket chain, to urge him to engage in “good-faith negotiations” with the union.

On Monday, Blumenthal and other members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation delivered the message in a letter.

“We write to strongly urge Stop and Shop to return to the negotiating table,” the letter says. “Failing to come to an expeditious fair agreement hurts the company, its employees and its consumers, especially as we approach the Easter holiday.”

Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, recorded “strong profits” last year and in its recent fiscal quarter, profits that are “the direct result of the hard work of UFCW employees,” the letter says.

Workers had affixed McGowan’s name to an inflated pig-like figure meant to symbolize corporate greed.

The strike, which began Thursday, involves about 160 workers at the Groton store, according to Michael Forster, 55, of Old Saybrook, a produce manager who serves as a union shop steward. He said he’s been with the company for 39 years, 22 of them at the Groton Stop & Shop.

“We’re just looking to maintain what we have. We’re not looking for a huge increase in pay,” he said. “We want people to understand that.”

Employees’ shares of health care benefits would increase dramatically over the course of the three-year contract the company is offering, as would the size of plan deductibles, Forster said.

Negotiations began in January and broke down in February. 

Dan “The Produce Man” Troy, 58, and his wife Laura, 55, of Ledyard, also were among the picketers.

They said they’ve worked for Stop & Shop for 40 years, having met at an earlier Groton location “down the street” from the current one. Laura said she was hired “back when you had to know somebody, when it was an honor and a privilege to work for Stop & Shop.”

“I gave them my heart and soul,” she said.

Asked how they were surviving, the Troys said friends and family members “have stepped up,” offering support that’s included groceries bought at “Big Y, Aldi’s and BJ’s.”

They recalled that an earlier strike, in 1988, lasted just 18 hours, with employees returning to work while negotiations continued. Since then, they said, their benefits have been eroded.

Behind the picketers, the store, which contains a People’s Bank and a pharmacy, remained open. Anyone who wanted to cross the picket line could go in, shop and check themselves out. None did Tuesday afternoon.

Nothing has been delivered to the store since last Thursday morning, Dan Troy said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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