Stop & Shop employees go on strike

Loralee Begin, an employee at the Stop & Shop in Naugatuck, leads fellow employees in a chant as they picket outside of the store on Friday morning. Stop & Shop employees across three states went on strike Thursday afternoon. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Thirty-one thousand Stop & Shop employees at 249 stores across three states, including one in Naugatuck, went on strike Thursday afternoon.

The Stop & Shop at 727 Rubber Ave. in Naugatuck was open Friday morning, but practically empty, as employees picketed at both entrances to the store. Inside the store, the cash registers were almost all unmanned. Anyone who wanted to check out had to use one of the self-checkout registers.

Chants of “hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go” could be heard across the parking lot.

“No one wants to be out here, but we have to do what we have to do,” said Loralee Begin as she picketed outside of the Naugatuck store with fellow employees.

The grocery retailer stands to lose out on lucrative Easter holiday shopping if the strike isn’t resolved soon. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2017 Americans spent $5.8 billion on food, $2.6 billion on candy and $3.3 billion on decorations and flowers ahead of the holiday.

In a statement on its website, Stop & Shop said it’s “disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt services at our stores. Stop & Shop has contingency plans in place to minimize disruption.”

The retailer said it has “proposed a good and reasonable offer to our local unions” that includes across the board pay increases for all associates, continued health care benefits at a fraction of what employees at other retail companies pay and increased pension payments to full and part time UFCW members.

UFCW spokesman Abraham White said store closures will be decided by managers at each location.

Workers from five United Food & Commercial Workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have been in negotiations with Stop & Shop’s Dutch parent company Ahold Delhaize since Jan. 14. The parties have been at odds over proposed reduced wages, stripped-down benefits packages and pension plans that would reduce employer contributions and raise costs for workers. Also at issue is Stop & Shop’s intention to eliminate more cashiers in favor of checkout machines.

“They want to take our pension. They want to give us bonuses and not raises. Take away overtime. Increase our medical. Eliminate vacation time. Cut holidays and personal days, sick days. You name it, they want it all,” said Begin, adding it’s the employees who are the foundation the company is built on.

Ahold Delhaize’s 2018 earnings report, published Feb. 27, pushed the two parties further apart when it revealed $1.8 billion in net profits.

“We have worked for our stuff and now they want to take it away,” said Lori Koritkowski, an employee at the Naugatuck store. “The people before us, us now, and the people after us is what makes this company, has made it, and is going to keep it going. We are just getting slapped in the face and it is nothing but corporate greed. They have made billions of dollars of profit and they just slap us in the face. We won’t accept that.”

On March 10, 600 of the 7,000 Stop & Shop workers represented by UFCW Local 919 attended a strike authorization meeting and voted unanimously to approve a strike, making it the fifth and final local to do so. Local 919 represents front-end Stop & Shop workers in Connecticut, including in stores in Waterbury, Naugatuck, Watertown, Cheshire, Torrington, Litchfield, North Canaan, Southbury and Winsted. Local 371, which represents back-end workers in many of the same stores, authorized a strike on March 6.

Locals 328, 1445 and 1459 in Massachusetts and Rhode Island had previously authorized strikes.

U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., on Thursday expressed his support for the striking workers in a statement.

“Stop & Shop workers are facing big cuts to their health care and take-home pay,” he said. “I support folks who are standing up and speaking out. Stop & Shop has been a good community employer for decades, and it’s time for them to step up and provide fair wages and benefits for these workers as soon as possible.”

Luke Marshall contributed to this report.