Here’s what the union objected to. Stop & Shop executives wanted to raise employee’s health insurance premiums. And they wanted to reduce pension benefits for new employees. The two sides couldn’t reach a compromise. So now, workers are on strike.
The company’s executives are quick to point out that Stop & Shop is one of the only remaining unionized grocery chains in New England. Walmart, Whole Foods, Costco and Aldi all do not have unionized workforces. This helps them keep their labor costs down. The grocery industry has notoriously thin margins, and Stop & Shop says, its higher labor costs make it hard to compete. (Workers point out that S&S parent company, Ahold Delhaize, made more than $2 billion in profits last year.)
Roger Achille teaches labor relations at Johnson and Wales University. He says a big factor in how this strike turns out will be customers. Whether they keep shopping at Stop & Shop, or go elsewhere.
"So [with] strong customer loyalty, maybe Stop & Shop can weather it," Achille said. "But if the loyalty is not there, and the consumers take advantage of their competitors, then that may be challenging for Stop & Shop."
That's why workers outside this Stop & Shop in Providence made it clear to drivers considering pulling in to the store's lot: If you want groceries, don't come here.
Wendy Mann has worked at Stop & Shop for 12 years. She's now a union steward. She says she wishes a strike wasn't necessary, but that the company's corporate leadership won't give employees what they need to live.
"[They] can definitely afford to give us what we deserve," she said. "We give our lives to this company. Give us what's ours."
The strike is the largest private-sector strike in the United States in three years.