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More than 1,100 unionized meat, seafood and deli workers at Stop & Stop stores throughout New York City’s five boroughs, as well as in Long Island, are set to hold an emergency meeting and strike vote on Monday, March 4. The workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 342, have been working under an expired contract since October 2011.
The vote was originally scheduled for Friday, March 1, but was postponed until Monday in an effort to avoid a strike.
“We would like nothing more than to come to a fair agreement and have our membership vote on it as soon as possible, but until Stop & Shop proves that they are serious about taking care of their workers, we will remain on track to hold a strike vote,” said Kate Meckler, the director of communications of Mineola, N.Y.-based UFCW Local 342. “The meeting being delayed until Monday just gives us time to determine whether or not Stop & Shop is truly ready to work with us."
Stop & Shop characterized the planned strike vote as “unfortunate,” adding that it would “do our part to reach an agreement -- including wage increases, retirement and benefits -- that ensures that our associates’ total compensation package remains fair and competitive, while also enabling Stop & Shop to effectively compete in an increasingly challenging marketplace, which includes non-union stores and unionized stores where unions have made concessions.”
Union officials claim that Stop & Shop, a banner of Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold USA, has consistently proposed wage freezes in the nearly two years since the contract expired, big reductions in pension benefits, large-scale cuts to part-time workers’ hours, and major changes to members’ health care coverage that would lead to exorbitant out-of-pocket costs, including a proposal to eliminate part-timers from eligibility for coverage.
In turn, the union said, Local 342 has offered frozen health care costs, frozen pension costs, what it deemed fair wage increases over the past two years, no changes in any conditions, and to negotiate the impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
“We are not in the business of reducing workers’ hours,” said Richard Abondolo, president of Local 342, which represents nearly 10,000 workers in New York and New Jersey throughout a variety of industries, including retail food, wholesale food processing, distribution, and manufacturing. “The company is not seriously considering the large numbers of part-time employees who work in these stores, and the power that they maintain by being the flexible workforce that contributes to the company’s success. We will not allow our part-time members to be punished or become the scapegoat for health care reform.”
“We took a patient approach to bargaining, and tried to be reasonable because there are a lot of unsettled issues out there, but Stop & Shop has refused to work with us,” added Meckler. “The leadership is upset, the membership is fed up, and everybody’s ready to take action.”
Stop & Shop said it was “looking to set more dates to bargain with Local 342 to achieve an agreement without any disruption to our valued associates, whether they belong to Local 342 or other local unions that represent a majority of the associates in those stores.”
If members vote “yes” to a strike, as the union leadership expects, job actions could take place.
“All the other UFCW local unions in our area have pledged support, and the leadership of Local 342 will continue to try to get a fair contract without job actions, but if the company won’t be reasonable, then we are confident our members will do what is necessary,” Meckler said.
While it expressed the hope that any labor action could be headed off, in the event that a strike does happen, Stop & Shop said that all of its stores would “remain open without interruption and continue to provide the highest level of service and quality products our customers have come to expect.”