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North Adams Stop & Shop workers assemble in the early hours of the UFCW strike against the supermarket chain on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Union steward Bill Laviolette (front, giving the thumbs up) coordinated the location actions; photo by Jason Velázquez.
North Adams Stop & Shop workers assemble in the early hours of the UFCW strike against the supermarket chain on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Union steward Bill Laviolette (front, giving the thumbs up) coordinated the location actions; photo by Jason Velázquez.

Stop & Shop Workers Strike across New England

Talks set to continue as union and company measure each other’s resolve from across parking lots.

NORTH ADAMS — Today is Saturday, April 13, 2019, I am your host, Jason Velazquez, and I’d like to welcome you to Episode #69 of our flagship podcast, the Top Left Corner.

What you heard coming into this program was the scene outside the Stop & Shop in Chicopee, Mass., as workers from that and other stores represented by United Food and Commerical Workers Local 1459 rallied near the tail end of a string of negotiations that began in the Autumn of 2018. Stop & Shop workers throughout New England have been working without a contract since February. All those heated talks between the Union and Dutch international retailer Ahold Delhaize reached a stalemate Thursday, and at about 1:15 p.m. local time, The UFCW texted their workers en masse to let them know that it was time to strike.

NEW MUSIC ALERT

This episode of TLC features a new track from the

Iron Age Mystics, “You’ve Got the Power”

Stick around ’til the end.

The text read ”Stop & Shop is unwilling to move in negotiations so now it’s time for us to walk out of the stores and & bring our protest to the picket line.”

A spokeswoman for Stop & Shop declined to be interviewed for this news segment, but e-mailed their latest statement, as well as a fact sheet summarizing their view of the conflict. Look for these in the shownotes for this episode which you can find at greylockglass.com

Don’t worry though, plenty of other folks were more than happy to speak with the Greylock Glass on the subject, so let’s get started right away by hearing from Jeff Jones, vice president of the UFCW 1459, with whom we spoke via Skype, in the days before the strike was announced.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

I read from Stop & Shops PDF, entitled, “Key Facts: Reaching a Fair New Contract With New England’s Only Large Fully-Unionized Supermarket Workforce” (available in the shownotes), which described the high-quality, comprehensive health care and retirement benefits the company said that it was committed to providing.

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[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

The Fact Sheet also explained that the contract proposed by Stop & Shop would increase what they called their “already industry-leading pay for full-time associates and strong part-time associate compensation.” Again, Jones was less than convinced.

STOP-AND-SHOP-FACT-SHEET

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

Far from being a pay increase, when factoring in other realities, Jones said the company’s offer amounted to a take-back.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

The Greylock Glass heard about the UCFW strike within seconds of its announcement, and when we arrived on the scene at the Stop & Shop on State Road in North Adams, some workers were still filing out the front doors of the supermarket that today is seeing very little business. Cars and trucks blared their horns in support of the picket line — an uncommon sight to see in recent decades in Massachusetts smallest city.

[Bill Laviolette, UFCW, Local 1459 union steward, and others on the North Adams Stop and Shop picket line Thursday, April 11 ]

We spoke with North Adams mayor Tom Bernard, by phone, that afternoon about the strike and the implications for the city.

[North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard speaks]

Bernard noted that the impact of the labor dispute went well beyond North Adams.

[North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard speaks]

Of course, by the numbers, one group people affected by the strike may not even have been aware of the situation until they drove into the parking lot for their weekly groceries.

[North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard speaks]

The mayor was cognizant that his city was suspended for a moment in time, as people looked back at labor movements of the past. He cautioned, though, not to draw too many conclusions from a past that bears only some similarity to today.

[North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard speaks

Despite taking care not to seduced by the past, Mayor Bernard recalled his involvement in a project about the history of now defunct North Adams employer Sprague Electric, run by MCLA professor Maynard Seider. The project sought to commit to audio recordings the memories of people who worked for, or were impacted by, the manufacturer, Many of the subject remembered days of intense labor conflict that send shock waves through the town. The coincidence couldn’t be more fitting, as I had just interviewed Professor Seider about his just published book, The Gritty Berkshires: A People’s History from the Hoosac Tunnel to MASS MoCA. You can hear my entire conversation with Seider as a stand-alone podcast, but I thought his insight on todays conflict to be extremely valuable.

[Professor Maynard Seider speaks]

A strongly pro-labor movement is indeed growing in the Berkshires, as evidenced by the recent formation of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The group, whose charter was recently ratified by the national organization, has come out in support of the Stop & Shop workers. Although a lengthier interview with the organization is in the works, I got ahold of John Prusinski, co-chair of the Berkshires DSA, to talk specifically about the situation with the New England grocery giant.

[John Prusinski, co-chair of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, speaks]

For those who have been interested in what the DSA is about, but haven’t known who to ask, Prusinski laid out what the organization is and is not.

[John Prusinski, co-chair of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, speaks]

The Berkshires DSA recently elected it’s first slate of members, some of whom were part of the organizing committee. Now that the group is an official chapter, members are focusing on funneling enthusiasm and and momentum into action.

[John Prusinski, co-chair of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, speaks]

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Berkshires Democratic Socialists of America can visit them on social media or at their website, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I build when I was part of the organizing committee in the group’s formative days.

[John Prusinski, co-chair of the Berkshires chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, speaks

Once upon a time, radio stations would often feature short, “man-on-the-street” segments that entailed a reporter walking around downtown with a microphone and asking random people what they thought about various pressing issues of the day. Americans are funny though, these days. With all the opinion sharing people do on the socials, try walking up to someone on the sidewalk and sticking a microphone in her face. Being ignored is typically the best thing that’ll happen.

So the Greylock Glass implemented a virtual version of “person on the street,” where people can go to the website and send us 90 seconds worth of their take on some of the issues we’ve covered. Well, until the issue of the Stop & Shop labor dispute came up, no one had ever taken us up on the offer. So imagine our surprise when two rando callers left us voice messages about the strike! Have a listen.

[Anonymous caller #1 speaks]

[Anonymous caller #2 speaks]

Well, I think we’re going to keep trying with this feature. It’s just way too much fun. Our second caller brought up the interesting idea of trying to see the situation from the company’s point of view. That’s a challenge, and pretty generous of anyone with labor sympathies to try to do. In asking that the public see things from their point of view, Stop & Shop points out that they face stiff competition out there from non-union shops.

Jeff Jones, vice president of UFCW Local 1459 isn’t buying it.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

In the Key Facts handout, Stop & Shop compares the wages it offers it’s employees to those of similar employers in the area. Jones suggests that the comparison is both misleading and not particularly useful in addressing the larger issue of living wages.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

According to Jones, even small groceries have managed to swing better starting wages than the mammoth chain.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

At this point, no one can say how long the strike may last. What history tells us is that without community support, these actions tend to lose steam. Jones believes that across New England, families and supporters are behind workers, and that the union can stick with it for the long haul if necessary.

[Jeff Jones, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459, speaks]

We’ll be checking in regularly on the status of the strike, and will continue to try to get a Stop & Shop spokesperson on the line for comment. Remember that documents both from the company and from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union are available in the show notes at greylockglass.com.

I think we’ll wrap this episode up with a song, and since I’ll be talking with, Kevin Connelly, lead vocalist of Iron Age Mystics, about their latest release on this week’s episode of our Indie music podcast, INDIEcent Exposure, why not lets spin their new tune “You’ve Got the Power,” and use that to take us home. As always, thanks for tuning in, and we’ll talk with you soon.

Be a voice in this story — leave a message (90-sec limit) telling us your thoughts about this development!

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
E-mail: editor@greylockglass.com
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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