With Stop & Shop strike over, now what?

  • Stop & Shop employees Dan Hadley and John Oski are back at work Monday in Greenfield after the strike was settled the day before. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Stop & Shop in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2019 11:07:41 PM

GREENFIELD — As Taunette Greene returned to work Monday morning, she wasn’t feeling nervous, anxious or upset.

“I was looking forward to working with my friends because the people I work with are my friends,” Greene, a union steward at Greenfield’s Stop & Shop, said.

At 7:30 a.m. Stop & Shop employees who had been on strike for 11 days, which centered around wages, health insurance and pensions, were greeted by their bosses at the front doors of the Greenfield business.

“In our own little nucleus in that store, we’re still a family,” fellow union steward Ricky Butynski said. “Of course we’re happy to be back, but geez, they really tried to throttle us. That’s not a nice feeling.”

Locally, now it’s about getting the supermarket up and running at its full capacity again. On Monday the meat, seafood and bakery departments had many empty shelves, as the unionized employees returning to work awaited deliveries. Butynski, a meat clerk and Stop & Shop employee of 38 years, said he expects things to return back to normal at least by Friday.

Regionally, the deal is not yet done. A tentative agreement has been reached by leaders of the United Food & Commercial Workers union that represents the five locals that were on strike and Stop & Shop executives, but it still has to be ratified.

Both Butynski and Greene, who represent UFCW 371 and 1459, respectively, anticipate a vote to certify a new three-year contract sometime this week.

Greene, who is vice president of her union and has sat at the bargaining table over the last eight contracts, says she feels confident her local will ratify the deal, which she said meets their demands.

The tentative contract, Greene said, includes: raises as opposed to bonuses for all workers; part-time employees retained time-and-a-half for weekend work; pensions will be sustained for retirees; and health care packages were maintained, including spousal plans, which were on the chopping block.

Greene said they struggled through the last two contracts, as the company grandfathered in protections and weeded them out for new employees, particularly part-timers.

“We made a conscious decision that this contract there would be no more grandfathering and it might take a strike to accomplish that,” she said. “I don’t think they thought we were going to do it.”

Feelings on what this strike might mean internally is a mixed bag.

Greene said she felt it was “empowering” and that Stop & Shop now knows that what may have once been a perceived empty threat of striking is now a reality for future contracts.

Butynski said it’s left a sour taste in his mouth, and wants to wait and see what happens when the contract goes before his fellow UFCW 371 members in the next couple days.

“A lot of people got their feathers ruffled a bit,” Butynski said. Usually if the union leaders say this is the best contract, “We go along with it. This time I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody said, ‘Hell no.’”

He added: “We felt like it was a victory that we were able to persevere through it … I can’t say I feel trusting for the next contract.”

Both Greene and Butynski said they felt the strike may have broader outcomes.

“For me, it didn’t have much to do with Stop & Shop,” Greene said. “It had to do with big business.”

“It will set a precedent for other companies, and not just retail, that you have to offer better contracts for people,” Greene said. “It’s sort of protects the middle class. It’s sort of a middle class job.”

Stop & Shop spokespeople often reiterated through the strike that the company offers higher pay than its local and national competitors. Union employees, 31,000 between the New England stores on strike, especially the remaining full-time employees, often recalled the days when the job was a desirable one.

“You used to have to know someone to work here,” Greene, who has worked at Stop & Shop for 46 years and began as a 16-year-old, said. “It’s gotten to a point where nobody wants to work here anymore.”

The union fought for maintaining and in some cases increasing the rights of part-time employees, while pushing for pensions to be maintained, as full-time employees approach retirement.

Union workers on the picket line also fretted over the business model fully changing over to a part-time culture where working at Stop & Shop no longer can be a career, middle-class job like some in Franklin County and across New England had made it.

Part of the sticking points between part-time and full-time work has revolved around health care, especially in Massachusetts where residents are entitled to health care through MassHealth. Public officials, both locally and regionally, questioned Stop & Shop’s health care policies for its employees.

With the strike likely done and a contract settled for three years, the union stewards in Greenfield expressed their appreciation for the public for mostly honoring their picket line.

“The fact that we walked and we all stayed together in unity, that was one of the positive things that made the strike successful,” Greene said. “The major part was the customers.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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