Stop & Shop workers approve new contract

The two unions representing Stop & Shop employees in Connecticut voted overwhelmingly on “Thursday night to ratify the” a tentative contract labor leaders negotiated with the company over the last “weekend.

In separate votes taken in Southbury and New Haven Thursday, United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 371 and 919 voted to approve the the tentative contract agreement.

Local 919 ratified the deal unanimously shortly after 8 p.m. in New Haven. Local 371 followed suit about 10 minutes later in Southbury, ratifying the contract by acclimation.

UFCW Local 371 president Tom Wilkinson said after the ratification Stop & Shop customers voted long before the union’s formal action, shopping for groceries at other stores to pressure the company. And he said the impact of unionized workers from Europe who traveled to the strike sites on their own dime to lend support.

“I think it puts the union in a better place,” Wilkinson told Hearst Connecticut Media after an overwhelming vocal vote by acclamation by the hundreds of union members in attendance, just after 8 p.m”. “We did our job on the picket lines, but it’s not something that we’re going to gloat about. We are going to be very proud of the operation we had. You think about it: Shutting down 240 stores down – in 10 minutes.”

Wilkinson’s counter with Local 919, Mark Espinosa, said “everything the company was looking to take away from us didn’t go through.”

“We got excellent raises that are retroactive and the members are secure in knowing their pensions and their health plans are intact,” Espinosa said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 371 and 919 met in Southbury and New Haven on Tuesday Thursday to provide members with details of the tentative contract agreement and top have them vote on the tentative contract. “Local 919, which is located in Farmington, represents about 7,000 workers, including cashiers and employees who stock the shelves, while Westport-based Local 371 has about 4,000 members who work in the meat, fish and deli departments.

“The membership walked off the job angry, but they are going back proud,” Thomas Wilkinson, Ppresident of the UFCW 371 in Westport, said prior to the vote. “Negotiations are hard … and it seems like it’s always been like that in labor relations.””

At the Wyndham Southbury hotel just off Interstate 84, the Westport-based “UFCW Local 371 set up a ballroom to accommodate 550 Stop & Shop workers voting on the contract there. The room erupted in applause as union leaders filed into the meeting, which was closed to reporters.”Meanwhile, in New Haven, more than 700 members of Local 919 packed a ballroom at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale.

Espinosa approached the podium before the vote and raised his clenched fists like a victorious prizefighter.

He called what the union achieved “a watershed moment.”

“We want to be able to show America, particularly non-union, what a strong union can do,” Espinosa said. “You are part of history.”

While passions were high on the picket lines, Wilkinson said the decision to end the 11-day strike had to be made because ultimately it would have would have “done harm to both parties ultimately”.

“That energy (from the workers) cannot last forever, so it got to a point when a decision had to be made where we came up with a tentative agreement,” he said. “If the strike continued, what more would be achieved? What more would’ve been worthwhile?

“Naturally, if we got everything that we wanted, I don’t know how long the company would last,” Wilkinson said. “The tone of this negotiation was set very early. They knew where we were coming.”

The outcome, he said, is that both sides “can at least say this is a contract where the members are going to feel secure and the company is going to be able to sustain itself into the future,” he said.

“We can survive anything except store closings,” Wilkinson said.

More than 31,000 Stop & Shop workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island went on strike on “April 11, staying off the job for 11 days. They returned to work on” Monday.

Ahold Delhaize, the Dutch company that owns Stop & Shop, said the 11-day strike is expected to lead to losses between $90 million and $110 million.

The highlights of the tentative contract for full- time” and part-time union members of Local 371 includes:

“All workers have a pension plan, and access to college benefits, such as a scholarship program that could provide up to $3,000 a year.

“Health care benefits that include part-time workers, who will get dental, vision, union member disability life insurance, and hearing aid benefit. Full-time workers get full medical and prescription, along with ancillary benefits that will also cover their spouse and dependents.

The increased presence of automation in stores continues to be a hot issue, but Wilkinson said that will come down to the company’s decision.

“We know automation is coming,” he said. “We’ve got miles to go in automation. We are only inches into this. … We have to prepare for it.”

Local 919’s members are full-time employees and are at or above the top of their wage scale will get an additional $25 per week in their paychecks retroactive to Feb. 24. Their pay will then increase by another $30 per week on Feb. 23, 2020 and then by another $25 per week on Feb. 21, 2021.

Clerks who became full time employees after April 19, 2016 and are at the top of their of their pay scale or above will get an extra $15 per week retroactive to Feb. 24 of this year, followed by a $1,250 bonus at the end of February 2020 and another $15 per week in their pay checks at the end of Feb. 2021.

Local 919 members who work part-time at Stop & Shop also saw smaller pay increases.

Jordan Grice and Alex Soule contributed to this story. luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com