As John Casey mingled this week with a few dozen Stop & Shop strikers in Norwalk under his supervision, he mulled the impact of any prolonged action on the lives of those United Food & Commercial Worker members now reduced to a $20-a-day stipend.
Morale is strong and workers will remain galvanized in securing what the union considers are fair demands on wages and benefits, Casey maintained — with the supermarket workers perhaps helping to stiffen the resolve of unions nationally for upcoming negotiations.
It would take six weeks of picketing by the 31,500 Stop & Shop workers out on strike to eclipse the worker days lost in an ongoing dispute between Charter Communications and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose 1,700 member technicians in New York and New Jersey walked off the job just over two years ago.
But while those workers have staged visible demonstrations outside Charter’s Stamford headquarters and in the boroughs of New York City, for sheer power of persuasion they have represented a relative pinprick for Charter, which employs nearly 100,000 people and added more than 940,000 subscribers last year.
The United Food & Commercial Workers strike, by contrast, has kept customers away from Stop & Shop stores in droves, with parking lots full at competing stores this week as households stock up for gatherings. A Farmington UFCW official estimated this week that parent Ahold Delhaize is sacrificing $20 million in revenue each day the strike continues.
Joe Biden noted the extraordinary pressure UFCW workers are applying on Ahold Delhaize, speaking in Boston Thursday as the former vice president made the rounds amid speculation of a pending candidacy for the White House.
“What’s happening here is that workers are not being treated, across the board, with dignity — they’re not being treated like they matter,” Biden said Thursday. “Ordinary, middle-class people built America, and … that’s not hyperbole — that’s just a simple fact. … The middle class built this place, and you know who built the middle class? Unions.”
Unions lose ground in 2018
After a relative lull lasting a decade, work stoppages spiked last year to 20 separate actions involving a combined 485,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing the highest number of workers on the picket line since 1986.
A few of those strikes got national attention, particularly in Arizona where 81,000 school teachers rallied in Phoenix to pressure state government into softening its previous stance on contract negotiations.
In Connecticut, unions built up their membership base four straight years to reach 278,000 people in 2017, a 10-year high, before losing 10,000 members last year in the aggregate as estimated by BLS. The reversal occurred despite overall employment gains last year, with 16 percent of Connecticut workers belonging to a union according to BLS.
Union challenges have included workers changing jobs and careers more frequently, making it more difficult to retain existing members; and corporations with more far-flung business interests giving them alternative sources of revenue to ride out work stoppages.
In the case of Ahold Delhaize, in addition to Stop & Shop the company owns the nonunion Hannaford supermarket which has an extensive Northeast footprint save in Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as the Giant and Food Lion chains.
All eyes on Stop & Shop
Initial, cordial public exchanges between the sides threatened to take a turn for the worse on Wednesday, when Stop & Shop CEO Mark McGowan issued a pointed warning to UFCW members acknowledging their right to picket but warning them not to cross any lines with respect to interacting with customers on the picket lines. McGowan did not state what recourse the company would take if it deemed strikers become too disruptive.
“On several occasions … protests have gone far beyond civil — and customers and employees have been threatened, intimidated or put in situations that felt dangerous or disrespectful,” McGowan stated on a Stop & Shop website addressing the strike. “That and illegal actions are things that we will — and I will — absolutely not stand for. We have a responsibility to make sure that everyone on Stop & Shop property is safe at all times, and we take this commitment very seriously.”
Local UFCW supervisors and workers have told Hearst Connecticut Media this past week that while they see some Ahold Delhaize proposals as to be expected in any new contract negotiation, others they regard as callous — including a company stance to no longer offer health insurance to spouses who have access to plans from their own employers.
Ahold Delhaize’s responses are being monitored nationally, according to John Casey, a UFCW supervisor at a Stop & Shop store in Norwalk and a veteran of a 1988 Stop & Shop strike that lasted less than 24 hours. The question is the degree to which they will turn the heat up on other labor negotiations, whether at companies represented by UFCW members like Acme Market owner Albertsons, or other prominent chains like CVS and Rite Aid.
“I can tell you that every single UFCW across the United States is looking at this,” Casey told Hearst Connecticut Media this past week.
Source: Connecticut Post