Northampton, Hadley, Belchertown Stop & Shop workers among 31,000 on strike

  • Workers picket in front of the Northampton Stop & Shop supermarket on King Street around 1:30 p.m. after employees went on strike Thursday afternoon. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Bartusewich, an employee at the Northampton Stop & Shop, on strike Thursday, April 11, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lori McSheffrey, an employee at the Northampton Stop & Shop, stands with others on strike Thursday, April 11, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Caroline Dube, Allison Burke, and Aubrey Kocjan, all employees at the Northampton Stop & Shop, on strike Thursday, April 11, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2019 1:41:14 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Unionized Stop & Shop employees walked out of local stores on Thursday to form picket lines, beginning a strike against the supermarket chain. 

Five different local chapters across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut are participating in the strike, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Twitter. Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW International Union, tweeted that the strike includes 31,000 members across 243 locations.

The King Street store in Northampton was closed as of 1:30 p.m. and has since opened with “limited services,” according to a Stop & Shop employee. 

As of 3:30 p.m., only the pharmacy and bank were open at the Hadley location. A phone call to the Belchertown location went unanswered.  

The supermarket chain has “made billions of dollars at the cost of employees, and now we want our fair share,” said Steve Bartusewich, a union steward and produce associate who has worked at Stop & Shop for 45 years. “We want to keep our customers happy, and a lot of us have been doing this for a long time.”

Bartusewich said health care, wages and pension are three of the main areas that employees are fighting to improve.

“Something needs to wake this company up,” Jon Sanctuary, a bagger who has worked at the store for 10 years, called out while picketing. 

The Gazette’s attempts to reach national Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan were unsuccessful as of Thursday afternoon.

A statement on the Stop & Shop website said that the company is “disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores.”

The statement adds that the supermarket has “proposed a good and reasonable offer to our union locals,” which includes “across-the-board pay increases for all associates,” “continued ‘Gold Level’ health care benefits for eligible associates” and “increased company contributions to the UFCW’s defined benefit pension fund.”

The statement also said that the UFCW’s proposed contract would increase costs for the company. 

Lori McSheffrey, a captain of the strike who has worked for the company for 40 years, said that she has seen a decline in wages and benefits offered over the past 20 years. New hires and part-time workers have been particularly affected, she said. 

“We’re fighting for the people that are coming in, too,” McSheffrey said, “the new people.”

McSheffrey added that while Stop & Shop claims that its workers are paid well, the average pay rates don’t reflect newer employees who face lower wages. 

Pharmacy Technician Aubrey Kocjan agreed, saying the company used to be “the place to work” when she started 20 years ago but is now compromising its ability to attract employees. 

“Everyone in this store works really, really hard, and it’s kind of disrespectful how they refuse to acknowledge our hard work,” said Caroline Dube, a pharmacy technician.

Bartusewich said that he was informed about the strike via a text from the Connecticut-based UFCW Local 371, which represents the meat and deli department. Other employees are represented by the Local 1459 chapter in Springfield.

Stop & Shop has 17 stores in western Massachusetts, three of which are in Hampshire County.

Without a contract since late February, last month union members gave their negotiating team the authorization to call a strike. The UFCW Local 1459 members said around the same time that the strike is being driven by “drastic cuts in wages and benefits that led us to take the action that is necessary,” according to Local 1459 President Tyrone Housey.

Unionized workers at Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have been working without a contract since Feb. 23, UFCW Local 1459 said last month.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 


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