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Obamacare At The Heart Of Contentious Stop & Shop Contract Talks

May 3, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco

Stop & Shop
Avenue Y Stop & Shop

New York, NY – Stop & Shop employees working in meat, deli and seafood departments throughout the city and Long Island are on edge this week as 18-month-old contract negotiations between their union and the Dutch conglomerate which owns the supermarket chain battle over President Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act.

“Health care is a major issue for everybody,” said Ira Wincott, general counsel with the United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] Local 342. “It’s a major issue on both sides.”

Last week, Stop & Shop issued it’s so-called “last, best and final offer” to the union which the ownership insists represents a “competitive and affordable benefits package.”

But Local 342 is dismissing that characterization, maintaining instead that what Stop & Shop is actually offering its workers is reduced employee health care benefits due in large part to increased worker deductibles. In addition, the union contends that the wage increases being suggested will not offset the increased cost of the company health care proposal, and that part time workers will actually see their hours drastically cut.  

Negotiations between both sides continued earlier this week, despite the tough talk from Stop & Shop's owners. A further meeting is also scheduled to take place on Friday. 

A butcher at the Stop & Shop outlet located on Avenue Y and East 17th Street in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn told LaborPress that he is afraid the company was preparing to hire new part-time employees for its meat department. 

One of the store’s managers, who requested anonymity, also said that Stop & Shop has taken a number of precautions in the event of a strike.

“They’re not going to force us to strike,” Wincott said. “We don’t have any intentions to strike at this point. We don’t want to affect the community like that. We just want to sit down and bargain the contract.”

The Avenue Y Stop & Shop was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy and required extensive clean up before it could finally reopen again in the aftermath of the historic storm.

Arlene Putterman, a spokesperson for Stop & Shop, declined to talk about the ongoing contract negotiations saying that “whatever is discussed at the bargaining table stays at the bargaining table.”

Stop & Shop has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Local 342 for allegedly bad faith bargaining due to the cancellation of meetings, refusal to respond to requests for information and frequent delays.

The union says that the Affordable Healthcare Act is causing both unions and employers  nationwide to take extra time considering the complexities of the new regulations – some of which have yet to be released. 

“We’ve been bargaining fairly all along, and we’ll continue to bargain,” Wincott said.“The workers are extremely upset at the last and final offer that was made by the company. I think they were upset about the entire package.”

When asked to address workers’ concerns, Putterman declined to comment, repeating only what Stop & Shop’s ownership has already stated, that they hope workers will ultimately ratify the offer, “recognizing that it will provide them with a fair contract and the best opportunity for longterm employment.”

Local 342 charges that the Ahold – the Dutch corporation that presently owns Stop & Shop as well as a number of other supermarket chains in the U.S. – is far removed from the community and relies heavily on profits from its American holdings to supplement its ailing European enterprises.

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