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 just take a few days,” said Picket Captain Peter Botella, a night crew chief at the 575 Greenwich Ave. Stop & Shop. He indicated the roughly 20 striking employees in the front of the building. “We’d all much rather be inside working.”
The Greenwich Avenue store was open for business, but deserted inside apart for a few members of management minding the store. Botella said during the first few days of the strike, more people were crossing the picket line, but the numbers of people coming to the store have dwindled in the last few days.
Botella said he thinks word is spreading about what they’re protesting with the strike, and that it’s not a matter of better pay. Rather, he said, they’re working to protect benefits that they already have.
“They [Stop & Shop] want to cut all the benefits in half,” Botella said.
Instead of paying $13 per week into his health care, Botella said, Stop & Shop wants to boost his contribution 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 also wants to cap all new hires at $18 per hour. He said the company doesn’t seem to
“We’re not going to all be able 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 of Stop & Shop’s offer.
He said some of the details of that offer include no pensions for workers hired after 2016. That, he said, will just weaken the pension fund for workers who are still entitled to pensions, since there won’t be new employees helping to pay into the system.
Health insurance deductibles will rise to $9,000 to $12,000 under Stop & Shop’s plan, he said, an unreasonable burden on employees.
Miller noted that the company’s hard line on benefits might be inspired by the cost of wandering robots the company has recently installed in each store.
Miller said the machines cost $35,000. Also, he
“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 passing and care packages for the workers, including food and coffee deliveries.
Tuesday afternoon, that support included a visit from The Providence Canteen, a volunteer organization that usually provides food 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 salad and 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 to them, see if they want it,” O’Rourke said. They had just arrived after a visit to 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 at the store to staff the strike during their regular shifts, many showing up early and staying late, regardless of the weather. He said his fellow employees have impressed him through their dedication.
“How committed they are to the cause,” Miller said.