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31,000 grocery store employees at Stop & Shop, one of the biggest grocery store chains in the country, are on strike until the company drops its planned healthcare and pension cuts.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) called for the strike after contract negotiations between the union and the company fell through this week, meaning tens of thousands of the store’s employees at more than 200 stores across the New England region will be picketing outside stores. Employees are asking the company to abandon its plans to increase employees’ healthcare costs and to halt its attempt to cut the pension benefits of new workers.

In an official statement posted to its website, Stop & Shop’s stated it felt the offer made to its workforce was “good and reasonable,” and that it was necessary for the store to remain competitive in a market, given that other grocery stores in the region aren’t unionized. The chain also hinted that it would be hiring scabs (temporary workers willing to cross picket lines during a strike) in order to keep stores open.

“[W]e are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores. Stop & Shop has contingency plans in place to minimize disruption,” the statement reads.

2020 presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) tweeted in support of the Stop & Shop workers on Thursday.

“I stand with UFCW workers in their fight to protect health care and workers’ rights,” Sanders tweeted.

However, Stop & Shop parent company Ahold Delhaize, based in Belgium, had a prosperous 2018. According to its website, Ahold Delhaize saw gross net sales of €62.8 billion (approximately $70.8 billion USD) for the year, and €16.5 billion (approximately $18.6 billion USD) in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone.

“Sales performance in the United States continued to show good momentum with 2.7% comparable sales growth excluding gasoline in the fourth quarter… Online sales growth accelerated to 12.1% at constant exchange rates, as our food eCommerce initiatives started to gain traction at each brand,” read a statement to investors in January of 2019.

HuffPost reported that the Stop & Shop strike is the largest private sector strike since at least 2016, when more than 36,000 unionized Verizon workers went on strike. It’s the largest grocery store strike since 2014, when more than 20,000 Market Basket workers at more than 70 stores in New England went on strike demanding the company reinstate ousted CEO Arthur Demoulas — known for paying workers well, attending their weddings and funerals, and providing generous benefits.

In addition to Stop & Shop, Ahold Delhaize also owns the Food Lion and Giant grocery store chains, and has operations in several European countries as well as the U.S.

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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