The New England-based grocery chain Stop & Shop has gained national notoriety in the last few weeks as 31,000 employees staged a boycott in response to pay cuts and unfair labor practices.
According to NPR, the parent company is aiming to reduce pension and eliminate time-and-a-half pay opportunities for employees. It is also trying to force employees to contribute more to their insurance premiums.
Beginning in January, company and union reps unsuccessfully tried to come to an agreement over a new contract. And on March 11, union reps voted to authorize a strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached.
And when an agreement wasn’t reached, the 31,000 employees mobilized in the largest demonstration seen in years.
But while these workers fight on the front lines for fair pay, they will go weeks – even months – without a normal paycheck.
Picketers are without pay and receive little-to-no financial compensation from their union. According to NPR, the union is unable to make up for lost wages until the strike hits two weeks and even then, full-time employees will only receive $100 per week.
The strike began April 11.
On May 1, health insurance will lapse for all union employees if a contract is not ratified. And for both Stop & Shop and the union, there appears to be no agreement in sight.
The strike is impressive based on its scale alone and its success of this strike is directly tied to how we as consumers can help the workers on the picket line.
As young adults entering the workforce, we should be doing everything we can to support the brave workers who refuse to return to their positions until a fair and balanced contract is ratified.
Many of us will go on to jobs where unions will determine the quality of our work lives – access to pensions, sick and maternity leave, and fair pay for working hours.
Unions are important to working class people in this country, whether they’re union members or not.
Unions have their root in the early days of industrialization, when workers were subjected to dangerous working conditions and long hours. We have forty-hour work weeks, time-and-a-half pay, and weekends because of unions. Our Social Security system was made possible through the support of labor unions.
The idea behind labor unions is that working people are the backbone of the economy, and they deserve a spot at the table when companies are making decisions that affect their lives.
We should be supporting the workers on strike in any way we can. The first step is refusing to cross the picket lines at any Stop & Shop or any of the other businesses owned by the conglomerate – including Hannaford, PeaPod, and Bfresh.
There have even been union struggles on our own campus.
The Massachusetts State College Association, the faculty and librarian union, just spent nearly two years in contentious bargaining with state and university representatives. The union members have now gone years without a pay raise.
Among other aims, state and university representatives wanted to increase the number of part-time faculty they’re allowed to hire. Part-time faculty members are paid less and offered fewer benefits. Hiring more would decrease the number of full-time positions universities would have to offer, meaning that – overall – employees would have poorer working conditions.
The union’s collective bargaining techniques – including protests and work-to-rule – helped stave off this change.
Stop & Shop is considering a similar practice that would lead to more part-time workers being paid at a lower rate without access to time-and-a-half pay, sick leave, and pensions.
We should not be supporting corporations that aim to dehumanize their workers.
We should not be supporting corporations that refuse to provide their workers with wages that meet the rising costs of living.
We should not be supporting corporations that threaten the security of full-time employee positions in order to hire more part-time workers and cut wage costs.
For Stop & Shop – and any conglomerate – the biggest concern is the bottom line. If the company is hurting financially, they will have to change its tactics.
Taking our business elsewhere is the least we can do. Stop & Shop employees deserve to have their voices heard.
Stand in solidarity, and don’t cross the picket line.