Beyond the Picket Line: Looking Back at the Stop and Shop Strike

Referred to as the “strike leader” by coworkers, full-time Stop and Shop grocery clerk John Moynihan was unafraid to spend ten days outside picketing for fair contracts after recent proposed changes to United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) contracts with Stop and Shop.  

Yet after the grocery chain reached a tentative contract agreement with its employees on April 21, he expressed relief to be back on the job.

“You’re actually more tired at the end of the day being out at the strike than you are in here,” Moynihan said of picketing. “Everybody was ready to come back to work.”

Moynihan was one of 31,000 Stop and Shop workers across New England who left their posts at cash registers or deli counters to protest changes to the chain’s contracts with UFCW local unions, announced on April 11.

“We just want things to stay the same,” Denise Ortiz said while picketing outside the McGrath Highway, Somerville Stop and Shop location one week before the tentative agreement was reached. “Cost of living has gone up so much in the past 5-10 years, and we really need to make a decent wage to take care of our children, to pay our rent, to pay our utility bills, keep food on the table.”

After working as a part-time employee at the grocery store for six years without benefits such as health insurance, Ortiz was thrown by amendments to employee contracts that would have reduced her existing benefits such as holiday pay.

While Stop & Shop described the proposals as fair offers in a competitive grocery market, UFCW local union members expressed frustration at benefit cuts that they say could have required the average full-time employee to pay an additional $893 in weekly health care premiums over three years.

“They want to change the health care plan drastically,” said Bob Berman, a business agent from the Local 1445 Union that represents 65 Boston-area Stop and Shop locations. “They… want to increase the co-payments of workers that are there, they want to change the plan to higher deductibles, out-of-pockets.”

Beginning as early as December 2018, UFCW and Stop and Shop have worked to renegotiate contracts that expired on February 23rd, 2019. Berman stated that the worker’s strike occurred as a last resort after month of strained negotiations between union members and Stop and Shop.

“We kept members informed as to what was going on in negotiations from the get-go – and that they weren’t going good,” said Berman. “The day after the contract expired, we had a meeting with all the members from all 65 stores that our local represents… and we had nothing that we could recommend to them for ratification, so instead we took a strike vote, and they authorized us to take a strike if need be.”

In a contract offer to associates represented by Local 1445, Stop and Shop stated that it is “proud to offer its employees these terms which will keep [their] associates among the best compensated in the industry.” The offer describes benefits such as “no changes in vacation time pay for current associates” and a 20% increase to the pension fund, paid for by the company.

However, a recent statement from UCFW notes that Stop and Shop’s proposal would have drastically increased out-of-pocket health care costs, as well as removing over 1,000 employees’ spouses from health insurance coverage. Stop and Shop employees cited changes to pensions, health care out-of-pocket costs and holiday or vacation time pay as motivating factors for the strike.

Moynihan explained that the tentative contract between the union and stores has yet to be formalized, which he expects will take place this week.

“It requires a ratification vote by us… we would either vote yay or nay, either accept it or not,” Moynihan said. “I did get another text this morning from the union that said – they preserved the health care and pension and time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, so a few of the major things.”

Berman expressed determination to see the negotiations through to what he hopes will be a just compromise for workers.

“We hope to see a fair contract for the hardworking people,” Berman said. “Decent wage increases. Decent pension contributions. Decent health care plans… We’re going to be here as long as it takes.”

Moynihan expressed gratitude that the public had supported striking workers in refraining from crossing the picket line to shop at Stop and Shop.

“I would like everyone, the public, to know – we couldn’t have done it without their support,” Moynihan said. “And we’re all thankful for that.”