About the Big Win for Stop & Shop Workers

By Amanda Page-Hoongrajok

On April 11th, 2019, 31,000 workers at Stop & Shop, a regional grocery store chain with more than 240 locations spread across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, went on strike. The striking workers were protesting Stop & Shop’s relentless attempts to cut their retirement benefits, increase the cost of healthcare, and decrease overtime pay. Store closings and community support for the workers pressured Stop & Shop to establish a tentative agreement with the union representing the workers, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which ended the strike on Sunday, April 21st.

The main areas of dispute that triggered the strike were cuts to overtime pay and healthcare costs. During contract negotiations, Stop & Shop wanted to increase employee-paid healthcare premiums, reduce retirement benefits for part-time and newly hired workers, and eliminate overtime pay on Sundays and holidays for new part-time workers (Johnston, 2019b). According to the New York Times, the increase in healthcare costs alone would set full-time workers back $300 a year and part-time workers $200 a year. Lisa Juliano, a striking worker that was interviewed by the Times said, “The extra Sunday pay makes up what I live on day to day. If not for the extra I get on Sundays, I wouldn’t have gas to come to work for the rest of the week.”

Stop & Shop sought these cuts despite healthy levels of revenue and profit. According to a petition sponsored by Jobs with Justice, Stop & Shop hauled in $1.45 billion worth of revenue in the first three quarters of 2018. This represents a 19% increase in revenue from the first three quarters of 2017. Jacobin further reported that Alhold Delhaize, the parent company of Stop & Shop, reported more than $2 billion in profit for 2018 and engaged in $880 million worth of stock buybacks, which effectively enrich the owners of the company’s stock.

Once the strike began, the effects were immediate. The Boston Globe reported that dozens of stores were closed due to the strike, and the stores that remained open experienced limited hours and service:

“The Stop & Shop on Newport Avenue in Quincy was eerily quiet Tuesday morning, the hum of refrigeration and chattering of product ads over the intercom among the only signs of life in the largely empty store. The deli and meat departments were dark, their counters mostly bare, and the produce display for bananas was barren.”

The Boston Globe further reported that within the first few days of the strike, visits to Stop & Shop declined by 75%. Stop & Shop competitors like Market Basket and Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, saw a spike in visits to their stores.

The clear costs of the strike prompted Stop & Shop to concede the majority of their desired cuts. The tentative agreement that was reached protects employee overtime pay and does not increase healthcare costs. According to a direct statement from the UFCW, “The agreement preserves health-care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time and a half pay on Sunday for current members.” The members will vote to accept or reject the new contract but have returned to work at stores.

In a time of historically low union membership, this strike contributes to the displays of worker power in recent years. In 2016, Verizon workers stepped out of their stores and onto the picket line to protest job security and flexibility. In 2018, public teachers across the U.S. protested poor working conditions and low pay. The Stop & Shop strike, which represents the largest private sector strike since Verizon, is just one more addition to this ongoing movement. This, once again, has proved, “the people, united, will never be defeated.”

Amanda Page-Hoongrajok is a graduate student in economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Sources: Liza Featherstone, “Stop Shopping at Stop & Shop,” Jacobin; Sandra Garcia, “Stop & Shop Workers Are on Strike at Over 240 Stores in New England,” The New York Times; Jake Johnson, “‘When Workers Fight, Workers Win’: Union Declares Victory as Stop & Shop Strike Ends With Deal to Raise Wages,” Common Dreams; Katie Johnston, “Visits by loyal Stop & Shop customers decline 75 percent during strike,” The Boston Globe; Katie Johnston, “As strike goes on, effect on Stop & Shop is increasing.” The Boston Globe; Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, “We Stand with Stop & Shop Workers!,” The Action Network; United Food and Commercial Workers, “UFCW Announces Tentative Agreement for Stop & Shop Workers.”

Our March/April Issue Is Out!

Cover of March/April 2019 issueOur March/April issue is out–sent to e-subscribers last week and en route to print subscribers now.  We have posted the issue’s cover story, Can We Afford a Stable Climate?, by Frank Ackerman.  (Thanks to D&S collective member Jeanne Winner for the cover concept, which perfectly frames the humor in Frank’s title.)

Here is the issue’s editors’ note, including a welcome to our new co-editor, Elizabeth T. Henderson:

Economic Extinction

In early February, The Economist published an article, “A Bold New Plan to Tackle Climate Change Ignores Economic Orthodoxy,” lamenting the fact that the Green New Deal “largely dispenses with cost-benefit analysis.” This issue’s cover story by Frank Ackerman (one of the founders of Dollars & Sense) spells out just why ignoring economic orthodoxy, and cost-benefit analysis in particular, is exactly the right approach for climate policy. When we’re faced with uncertain but extreme risks, as we are with climate change, “policy should be based on the credible worst-case outcome, not the expected or most likely value.” Orthodox economists peddling cost-benefit analysis are like the dinosaurs on this issue’s cover—they should go extinct, as the dinosaurs did as a result of a changing climate. And the rest of us might well go extinct if we let economic orthodoxy determine climate policy.
In our ongoing series on a federal job guarantee, Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg pays tribute to FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, which turns 75 this year. Goldberg shows how the Green New Deal and related policy proposals could finally realize FDR’s vision and address the climate crisis and economic inequality at the same time. Ackerman also addresses the connections between economic inequality and climate justice in a long sidebar in his cover story.
A second theme of this issue is one of our favorite topics, U.S. imperialism. Arthur MacEwan answers a question that Ryan Cooper, an astute journalist who writes for The Week, posed recently on Twitter: U.S. corporations clearly exploit people in developing countries, but does U.S. prosperity depend on such exploitation? Arthur’s answer introduces a class analysis to address how elites—both in the United States and in the developing countries that corporations exploit—benefit most of all from such exploitation. But so do the rest of us: ordinary people in the United States benefit from low-cost consumer goods, cheap gas, and higher wages trickling down from bosses’ superprofits. Higher living standards have long bought off a “labor aristocracy” that might otherwise have shown solidarity with exploited workers abroad. In the end, there’s no doubt that the exploitation of developing countries is one of the pillars of U.S. prosperity.
U.S. agribusiness is one example of corporate exploitation of the developing world, as the eminent Malaysian economist Jomo shows in his review of the new book by former D&S co-editor, Timothy A. Wise, Eating Tomorrow. Agribusiness corporations influence government policies to favor large farms and industrialized agriculture, with disastrous results for small family farmers and the environment.
And the history of U.S. relations with Mexico provides a perfect case study of U.S. corporate exploitation of the developing world, as James M. Cypher and Mateo Crossa show in their retrospective on NAFTA. The agreement was more about investment than trade, and most of all about corporate access to low-cost labor and resources. If anyone needed more reasons to be skeptical about the Trump administration’s recent saber-rattling at Venezuela—endorsed by too many Democrats—the authors’ long sidebar on how NAFTA fits into the history of U.S. designs on Mexican oil provides plenty. The long history of U.S. interventionism for oil is where the climate crisis and imperialism meet, with oil companies being the central villains. Let’s hope we can make them extinct, too.
Last but not least, we continue our 45th-anniversary celebrations with another excerpt from our archives: from the year that NAFTA was initialized—1992—an article by former D&S staff editor Patricia Horn on the economics of violence against women.

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We at Dollars & Sense are pleased to welcome Elizabeth T. Henderson to our staff as co-editor! Liz previously worked for several years as an editor at the Indypendent in New York City. Her reporting has appeared in Dissent, The Nation, Waging Nonviolence, and the Indypendent. Liz brings extensive editorial, reporting, and fundraising experience to D&S, and her amazing organizational skills are already leaving their mark on the D&S office and our production schedule. Welcome, Liz!