Representatives for Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. and roughly 40,000 unionized employees are resuming contract talks today in Providence with a goal of reaching a resolution this week.
Representatives for Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. and about 40,000 unionized employees are resuming contract talks today in Providence with a goal of reaching a resolution this week.
The Quincy-based supermarket chain is negotiating with five United Food and Commercial Workers locals that represent workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut for new three-year contracts. The previous contracts expired at the end of the day Saturday, but both sides agreed to extend the terms for one week.
On Sunday, members of the locals voted to authorize a possible strike if negotiations hit an impasse.
Brian Petronella, president of UFCW Local 371 based in Westport, Conn., said he would prefer to set a definite strike date as a hard-and-fast deadline for the company if an agreement can’t be reached this week. He said he hadn’t yet consulted with the leaders of other locals to see if they shared his opinion.
Petronella said there are several issues that still need to be addressed, such as a proposed change in the way the company funds workers’ pension plans and a disagreement over wage increases. He said workers aren’t happy with a change proposed by Stop & Shop that would raise what an employee pays for health insurance by $100 a month.
“We’re not asking for anything outrageous,” Petronella said. “We’re just trying to be fair.”
Petronella said he doubts the company has lined up enough replacement workers to run the stores in the event of a strike. He said when his union went on strike briefly in the 1990s, Stop & Shop closed its affected stores for two hours.
Stop & Shop spokeswoman Faith Weiner declined to comment about the company’s contingency plans, including its recent newspaper ads to seek replacement workers. “The ads were part of our contingency planning in case of a work stoppage, but our focus is on completing the negotiations this week,” Weiner said. “We’re committed to staying at the table to reach an agreement this week.”
Weiner said about 36,000 employees among 240 stores are affected by the contracts.
Union leaders said Stop & Shop is trying to use the economic downturn to support its case at the negotiating table, even though it has seen sales gains as frugal consumers curb restaurant trips in favor of eating at home. “The company is trying to pretend that the economic downturn has (hurt) their business, when in fact the economic downturn has increased their business,” said Jim Riley, secretary-treasurer at UFCW Local 328 in Providence.
Weiner said Stop & Shop is the only one of the top 10 grocery retailers in New England with unions at all its stores. She said the economy has made the grocery industry more competitive, prompting her company to seek an agreement that secures “the future of Stop & Shop so we can continue to be competitive in the marketplace.”
Jon Chesto may be reached at email@example.com.