Local 919 union ratifies 3-year contract with Stop & Shop

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New Haven — United Food & Commercial Workers Local 919, which represents about 7,000 of the Stop & Shop workers in Connecticut, voted to ratify a three-year contract with Stop & Shop shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday.

The vote, which union leaders declared unanimous, came four days after UFCW and the grocery retailer announced they had reached a tentative agreement after an 11-day strike, which Stop & Shop parent company Ahold Delhaize estimated caused a profit hit between $90 million and $110 million.

The hourlong meeting was an enthusiastic one, starting with a slideshow of striking workers playing over music with uplifting lyrics, and ending with standing ovations and airhorns.

"I feel like I'm at a hockey game. Wooo!" President Mark Espinosa said at one point after he took off his jacket and apologized for getting "a little emotional for what we went through."

Stop & Shop previously noted it would "defer to the unions to communicate the specifics of the tentative agreements." The specifics outlined Thursday show a schedule of pay raises for full- and part-time employees, small increases in employee contributions to health care, maintenance of a fully funded pension and the ability for future part-time hires to work up to premium pay of time and a half on Sundays.

UFCW Local 1445 in Massachusetts ratified its contract on Wednesday. The other local in Connecticut, UFCW 371 also ratified the contract Thursday evening, while the remaining two locals in New England are scheduled to vote April 29 and May 1.

"You should be so proud of yourselves," Espinosa told the hundreds of employees gathered at the Omni New Haven Hotel. "This is a turning point in labor movement history. You are part of the largest retail strike ever in New England."

The biggest sticking point for the five union locals was health care costs.

The memorandum of agreement shows that an associate and spouse will go from $20 per week in pre-tax payroll deductions for health and welfare now to $30 in 2021. The family plan deductions will be $30 per week effective this July, $34 next year and $38 the following year.

"I knew there was going to be some increase on the health care," Espinosa said, but he felt the original proposal was ridiculous. That would've had associates paying 20 percent of the plan costs for individual coverage, up from a current average of 8.2 percent.

Throughout negotiations and the strike, Stop & Shop made the argument that its employees were paying far less for health care than non-unionized workers, while the attitude of workers was essentially: Exactly, and we want to keep it that way.

Regarding wages, part-time employees — nearly 75 percent of employees in Connecticut, Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan said — would see total wage increases ranging from $0.75 to $1.55 over the next three years, depending on how long the employee has been with the company.

The contract also includes protections so that a potential minimum wage increase wouldn't leave longtime employees making the same amount as new hires. Employees who have been with the company for more than 12 years must make at least $2.40 an hour above the minimum wage. It must be $0.50 an hour above minimum wage for those who have been with the company for two to four years, $1.20 for four to seven years, and $1.75 for seven to 12 years.

The contract also stipulates that employees who switch from part-time to full-time must get an increased wage of $2 an hour.

"This is about a democracy," Espinosa said. "This is about your place tonight. This is about the results of the hard work that you all put in, and we want to be able to show the rest of America, particularly the non-union world, what a union can do and what, collectively, your spirit means."

e.moser@theday.com

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