MERIDEN — Stop & Shop workers continued picketing on day five of their strike, bolstered by support from public officials and other unions.
At the Stop & Shop on East Main Street, workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 371 and 919 wore and carried signs, while few customers went into the store. About 31,000 workers in three states, represented by five unions, are on strike.
“Chemical workers are part of the UFCW and chemical workers are not going to be going near any Stop & Shop,” said Frank Cyphers, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Council of the UFCW.
Stop & Shop has said offers to the union include wage increases while keeping health care costs below market rates. A spokesperson for the company couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
On its labor negotiations webpage, Stop & Shop said it continues to bargain in good faith with the unions.
“The wages and benefits we provide for our full-time employees...are among the best among New England supermarkets — and pay and benefits for part-time associates are very competitive,” according to the statement.
Stop & Shop is currently owned by Ahold Delhaize, a company based in Brussels, Belgium, which was formed in July 2016 from the merger of Ahold, which bought Stop & Shop in 1996, and the Delhaize Group. The grocery chain is headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, visited the Wallingford store on Monday. It is one of 15 he has visited since the strike began.
“You know about this company,” Blumenthal told the 35 workers assembled outside the store. “They made about $2 billion in profits last year. They increased their dividends by 11 percent to shareholders just a couple of weeks ago yielding $880 million in stock dividends. They can do the right thing for you. “
In a conversation with Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan early Monday, Blumenthal asked him to come to the table with a fair offer. McGowan told him they are waiting for the next union proposal.
“I told him, ‘you need to do better,’” Blumenthal said.
Former store manager Scott Germain, of Wallingford, came out to greet the workers. Germain had worked for Stop & Shop for 41 years, 11 at the Wallingford store. He retired January 1.
“These are all my employees,” Germain said. “I support all the people. I understand both sides of the story. As a corporate entity, they want the best contract they can get. When it comes to a strike, no one wins. The people I know here, all they want is a fair contract.”
Few customers were going to Stop & Shops across the three states, according to news reports. Inside the Wallingford store, there were few customers. The bakery, deli and seafood sections were empty, but thousands of fresh cut flowers sat in containers in front of the store in time for Easter.
The Meriden store was open Monday. The missing workers were replaced by two managers and a security guard, the employees said.
Over the weekend, Blumenthal and other Democratic lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and state Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, visited the workers and brought food and beverages.
Contract negotiations between the five unions and Stop & Shop management have stalled over increased health care premiums, decreases in pension contributions, and an effort to cut higher pay rates for Sunday shifts for new hires. According to produce worker Bob Bugai, the change will mean only new employees will work Sundays because it’s cheaper.
“They are trying to eliminate as much as they can,” Local 919 President Mark Espinosa said in a video message to workers. “The company is already impacted. They are recognizing the lack of sales, the support from other unions, politicians, the public’s reaction.”
Union officials told Stop & Shop workers the grocer lost $90 million in sales in the strike’s first three days. The figure doesn’t include Palm Sunday, a significant grocery shopping day.
“We have to upgrade production,” said Kelly Moravsky of Southington, a floral manager and union steward for Local 919. “The bakeshop, floral; they’re going to lose after we’re back. We all want to go back to work. This is harder than working a full shift. This is not fun but we do what we need to do.”
Carole Gibertoni, of Meriden, went into Stop & Shop to pick up her prescription but is buying her groceries elsewhere.
“Yes, I support them, because every worker in every line is getting a hard time,” she said.
But some shoppers were willing to cross the picket line to avoid traveling to other stores.
Jorge Sanchez came out of Stop & Shop carrying a few bags and his baby daughter in an infant carrier.
“What can I do?” Sanchez said. “I still got to get my own stuff. I have to eat. I don’t want to take a long drive to Wal-Mart.”