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Stop & Shop prepares for possible strike

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published February 22. 2013 4:00AM
Supermarket seeks replacement workers

Stop & Shop, facing a possible strike next week at grocery stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, has started advertising locally for replacement workers, despite a union representative's contention that negotiations have not broken down.

An advertisement in Sunday's edition of The Day gave eight sites in Connecticut where Stop & Shop is recruiting replacement workers - known as "scabs" or "strikebreakers" to union members. The recruitment sites, which were to be open through today, included one at the Clarion Inn in New London, where people could sign up for temporary jobs at $12 to $15 an hour in the event of a strike.

Tom Wilkinson, president of the 8,000-member Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union that represents employees in southeastern Connecticut, said this week that Stop & Shop's decision to advertise for replacement workers was "business as usual," a common tactic by the company to put pressure on union members.

"That didn't impress us," Wilkinson said, speaking for the union leadership. "It did increase our concern amongst the members."

Stop & Shop said the move was part of standard contingency planning.

"Stop & Shop wants to ensure that we will be able to maintain our store operations and serve our customers," company spokeswoman Suzi Robinson said in an email Thursday.

Robinson, who said Stop & Shop employs about 13,000 people in Connecticut, added that complaints over replacement workers being offered higher compensation than current employees receive were misplaced.

"Temporary replacement workers are paid wages only, during a temporary period of time," she said. "What we're negotiating for our associates in the contract is the entire compensation package, not just wages. And we're committed to reaching a contract that makes sense for all involved."

Union leader Wilkinson said he is projecting positive results from ongoing negotiations and expected to put forth a contract proposal Sunday to the 5,000 of his members who are Stop & Shop employees. That's one day after a contract between the supermarket chain and five UCFS locals representing about 40,000 workers in the three New England states is set to expire.

"I can't say we've made tremendous progress," Wilkinson said Wednesday afternoon. "It goes to the brink every time."

An update on the union's website stated that Stop & Shop, owned by the Dutch company Ahold, had launched negotiations by suggesting that part-time workers not be given health care benefits starting next year. But the union said Stop & Shop has removed some of its more objectionable proposals from the negotiations as the two sides focus on issues such as holiday and sick pay, job transfers, pensions, wages and healthcare.

Wilkinson said he expected to be in negotiations through Saturday in Providence before bringing a proposal to members Sunday.

"The membership is engaged. They know what's going on; they know the issues." Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said union members have gone on strike against Stop & Shop before, but he was hopeful of reaching a compromise this time around.

"If leadership recommends a strike ... the membership would support us," he added.

Stop & Shop said it was hoping to avoid a strike.

"The unions have not initiated a work stoppage in over 60 years," spokeswoman Robinson said. "We are confident we'll reach an agreement with our union partners again this year."

l.howard@theday.com

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