Stop & Shop strike rolls into weekend

  • Stephanie Podlesny and her children Leo, 5, and Alarick, 3, show their solidarity with Greenfield’s Stop & Shop unionized workers who went on strike Thursday. Her husband, Frank has worked at the supermarket for 23 years. STAFF PHOTO/JOSHUA SOLOMON

  • Greenfield's Stop & Shop is running a limited operation while its 120 unionized employees are on strike. The bank and pharmacy services are expected to continue, and the store expects to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/JOSHUA SOLOMON

  • Greenfield's Stop & Shop is open on a limited operation while its 120 union employees are on strike.  STAFF PHOTO/JOSHUA SOLOMON

  • Greenfield's Stop & Shop is open on a limited operation during the strike. STAFF PHOTO/JOSHUA SOLOMON

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2019 11:59:23 PM
Modified: 4/12/2019 11:59:13 PM

GREENFIELD — When Frank Podlensy began working at Stop & Shop in the 1990s, there were 220 employees. Today, he says there are 120 workers, almost all of whom are part-timers.

Podlensy and his co-workers’ ability to provide adequate customer service has dropped, he said.

This week, contract negotiations boiled over to the point that the unionized workers decided to walk out.

“I’ve been here for 23 years,” Podlensy said. “I think this is the worst it’s been.”

It’s also a family issue for Podlensy, a Northfield resident.

Alongside him Friday afternoon on the second day of a strike that has no end date in sight were his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, Leo, 5, and Alarick, 3.

The Northfield family receives its health insurance through Stop & Shop, but under the current proposed contract, that insurance plan may change drastically.

“They don’t want to give us the fair part of the pie,” Podlensy said.

Health insurance, pension plans, wages and staffing issues related to customer service are the main complaints of the unionized workers who walked out Thursday afternoon.

Stop & Shop says it pays its employees more than competitive wages, and has health insurance and pension offerings comparable to its competitors.

During the strike, Greenfield’s Stop & Shop remains open with hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Currently, the store is running with just management and salaried staff, primarily keeping the bank and pharmacy open. Shoppers can purchase groceries, but they will have to use self checkout.

Union workers are urging community members to not cross the picket line.

Temporary staffing is expected to come to the store, union workers said Friday, but they hope the strike will end before it comes to that.

A majority of food deliveries may not happen. Teamsters Local 25, which employs a majority of the truck drivers who deliver to Stop & Shop, said last month in the event of a strike they would not cross the picket line. A delivery scheduled Friday night was expected to be halted by the picketing employees.

“Given that negotiations with assistance of the federal mediators are continuing, we are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our local stores,” Stop & Shop spokesperson Stefanie Shuman said in a statement.

The union, United Food & Commercial Workers, has been at the bargaining table with Stop & Shop executives since January. In March, the union authorized the right to strike and now the 30,000 at the 240 stores in New England have formed a picket line in front of their respective stores.

“What’s going on here is an education on what’s happening in big business in America,” local union steward and longtime meat clerk Ricky Butysnki said Friday.

Butysnki explained what he’s seeing play out as the “systematic dismantling of the union” by Stop & Shop. He said it’s obvious; “Mr Rogers could explain that to your kid at 4 years old.”

“This ain’t just a Stop & Shop thing,” Butynski said. “This is a big business making a big move in Greenfield, in Connecticut, in Rhode Island.”

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, voiced his support for the union workers on strike.

“If a major company is profitable and has been offering health insurance to workers, unless they can show a good reason of why they’re losing money, I don’t see why they would want to reduce the benefits for their employees who help make their business successful,” Mark said.

Fellow union steward and Stop & Shop pharmacist Taunette Greene said the contracts have been getting worse over time. She’s been with the supermarket for 46 years, when she was hired as a 16-year-old.

“They’ve cut, cut, cut and they’re still not happy and they want and they still want more,” Greene, who is the vice president of the regional UFCW 1459 union, said.

Bill Flynn, a shop steward, dairy clerk and employee of 40 years, remembered when they could provide top-notch customer service. With the reduction of most positions to part-time work and reductions in overall staff numbers, it’s been harder for them to do what they once enjoyed at the Stop & Shop along the French King Highway corridor. 

For now, the striking workers are telling people to take their shopping elsewhere, but hope customers will come back when a contract is settled. 

“We want the company to be good and to be number one,” Flynn said. 

“But that’s the problem,” Greene said. “They are number one and they don’t want to share it.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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