WARWICK, RI — Stop & Shop employees endured a sixth day of their strike protesting the company’s intended erosion of their pension and health benefits in windy weather, albeit with the audible support of passing motorists and reported care package deliveries.
The strike was expected to continue into a seventh day today, with no resolution Tuesday.
“We were hoping it would justtake a few days,” said Picket Captain Peter Botella, a night crew chief at the575 Greenwich Ave. Stop & Shop. He indicated the roughly 20 strikingemployees in the front of the building. “We’d all much rather be insideworking.”
The Greenwich Avenue storewas open for business, but deserted inside apart for a few members ofmanagement minding the store. Botella said during the first few days of thestrike, more people were crossing the picket line, but the numbers of peoplecoming to the store have dwindled in the last few days.
Botella said he thinks wordis spreading about what they’re protesting with the strike, and that it’s not amatter of better pay. Rather, he said, they’re working to protect benefits thatthey already have.
“They [Stop & Shop] wantto cut all the benefits in half,” Botella said.
Instead of paying $13 perweek into his health care, Botella said, Stop & Shop wants to boost hiscontribution up to $56 per week. Instead of retiring with $69 per year worked,employees would retire with only about $39 per year, he said.
Botella said the company alsowants to cap all new hires at $18 per hour. He said the company doesn’t seem tobe interested in helping its employees plan for their old age.
“We’re not going to all beable to work until we pass away,” Botella said.
At the 2470 Warwick Ave. Stop & Shop, about 40 striking employees stood on the sidewalk and in the parking lot of the grocery store. Richard Miller, steward for Local UFCW 328, was also critical of the company’s efforts, which he said will erode benefits for present and future employees.
Stop & Shop’s offer,according to its statement about the talks, includes:
- Across-the-board pay increases for all associates.
- Continued “Gold Level” health care benefits for eligible associates.
- Increased company contributions to the UFCW’s defined benefit pension fund for current full- and vested part-time associates – a rare benefit in the New England food retail industry, the company said.
“It’s part of a dissolving plan,” Miller said ofStop & Shop’s offer.
He said some of the details of that offerinclude no pensions for workers hired after 2016. That, he said, will justweaken the pension fund for workers who are still entitled to pensions, sincethere won’t be new employees helping to pay into the system.
Health insurance deductibles will rise to $9,000to $12,000 under Stop & Shop’s plan, he said, an unreasonable burden onemployees.
Miller noted that the company’s hard line onbenefits might be inspired by the cost of wandering robots the company hasrecently installed in each store.
Miller said the machines cost $35,000. Also, hesaid, they’re not very versatile beyond telling people where a spill hasoccurred.
“They don’t do anything. They just page you,”Miller said.
Miller said the striking workers have received“tons of support,” from the community, including horns honked in support in
Tuesday afternoon, that support included a visitfrom The Providence Canteen, a volunteer organization that usually providesfood and beverages for firefighters responding to fires throughout the state.
Paul O’Rourke, president of Providence Canteen,and Bill Lebron were busy serving shepherd’s pie, clam chowder, chicken saladand American chop suey to striking workers.
Lebron said they were partly inspired to lend a hand by a fellow member who works at Pea Pod at the Stop & Shop in Mansfield, MA, and also by the late Louie Caranti, a member who worked at the Cranston Stop & Shop on Warwick Avenue.
The food was left over from their visit to the Boston Marathon on Monday. After the Marathon, there was a lot of food left, he said.
“So I said, ‘Let’s swing by here and give it tothem, see if they want it,” O’Rourke said. They had just arrived after a visitto the Warwick Avenue Stop & Shop strikers in Cranston.
The effort was appreciated.
“This is a huge morale booster,” Miller said.
Miller said the store employees are arriving atthe store to staff the strike during their regular shifts, many showing upearly and staying late, regardless of the weather. He said his fellow employeeshave impressed him through their dedication.
“How committed they are to the cause,” Miller said.