Updated April 17
The entire Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop remained closed amid a strike that began on Thursday afternoon.
The Edgartown Stop & Shop, as well as the pharmacy in Edgartown, remained open, with hours from 8 am to 8 pm.
Few people appeared to be crossing the picket lines in Edgartown, and other Island supermarkets enjoyed an uptick in business.
Edgartown Stop & Shop managers could be seen outside the building Wednesday helping people who parked in handicap spots get shopping carts and enter the store, while those on strike cheered as cars driving by honked in support.
Speaking to The Times Tuesday morning in front of the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop, produce manager and shop steward Philip Patino said it is important the first thing people see off the boat is the employees on strike.
“The company is listening … The fact that they are shut down shows we are making a difference,” Patino said. “Stop & Shop is damaging their reputation. This is an American labor union being taken advantage of by an international company.”
Patino added that Stop & Shop employees have seen a huge outpouring of support from the community, and are not worried about the continued closure: “I feel the company will come around and do the right thing.”
The union is at odds with ownership over wages, healthcare, and retirement benefits, according to an email from the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW). “Stop & Shop can buy as many ads as they want, but they can’t change the facts,” according to the statement. “Stop & Shop’s latest proposal will drastically increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs, kick approximately 1,000 employees’ spouses off of their healthcare plan, and make it more challenging for 31,000 people to provide for themselves and their families. If the company’s most recent offer becomes a reality, every working family, neighborhood, consumer, and community will be hurt.”
In a statement of its own, Stop & Shop disputes that its contract offers will hurt employees, and is disappointed with the union’s decision to strike while negotiations are ongoing.
“Stop & Shop remains ready and available to meet with the union locals at any time,” according to the statement. “We are committed to good faith bargaining and hope to reach new contracts as quickly as possible that both recognize and reward the great work of our associates and enable Stop & Shop to compete effectively in the rapidly changing New England grocery market.”
In the statement, Stop & Shop says that it proposed a “good and reasonable” offer that provides across-the-board pay raises for all associates and increases contributions to pensions.
“Additionally, [Thursday] morning the company made several suggestions to the federal mediators to encourage further bargaining,” according to the statement. “The mediators gave those proposals to the locals late in the morning. The locals provided no counter proposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans.”
Other stores, food pantries benefit
The long weekend was particularly busy for Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier. Some shelves have been cleared out with the increased customer traffic.
“Business is up, but it’s all on the fly,” Bernier said. “We’re handling a whole bunch of somebody else’s work … these are interesting times.”
Despite the sudden uptick in business, Bernier said Cronig’s will continue to serve the community: “We’re just doing the best we can … we will continue to take care of everybody.”
Bob Pacheco, the owner of Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs, said business was up at his store as well: “We had a good weekend. We’re handling it all right, and we are doing the best we can.”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the strike is what will happen to the perishable food. Betty Burton, the coordinator of Serving Hands, was able to get an answer.
On Tuesday, Burton received 300 pounds of all kinds of meat, cheese, and some fish from Stop & Shop in Edgartown. (It’s unclear what’s happening with perishables at the Vineyard Haven store.)
Burton spoke with the Edgartown union steward to make it clear she wasn’t crossing the picket line — only picking up perishable foods for donations. Serving Hands gets a lot of its donations from the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“It’s nice for us and it’s nice it’s not going to waste. Stop & Shop donates a lot of food to the Greater Boston Food Bank,” Burton said. “We are grateful for the food, and that it didn’t go into a dumpster.” The food donations will be given to families in need ahead of their Easter distribution.
“Friday is our Family to Family distribution. We can use whatever they give us,” Burton said.
The distribution gives out large baskets of food to families on the three major holidays. The baskets contain potatoes, onions, carrots, spinach, apples, and oranges.
Speaking to The Times by phone on Friday, Jennifer Brogan, Stop & Shop’s director of external communications and community outreach, said she doesn’t have a definitive timeline for when the Vineyard Haven facility will open. “We understand how important our stores are, and how critical they are for the Vineyard community. We are doing everything we can to minimize disruptions for our customers,” Brogan said.
Tipping point was Thursday
On Thursday, all Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop employees walked out of the store at 1 pm with signs reading “On strike Stop & Shop employees UFCW Local 328.”
The Island’s two Stop & Shops are part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 328, which is based in Providence, R.I. Union negotiations have been ongoing over contract disputes.
As the strike began in Vineyard Haven, Patino told The Times all the employees want to get back to work: “Hopefully this gets a resolution both parties can agree on.”
As of 1:30 pm, the workers in Vineyard Haven moved to Five Corners in front of the Post Office.
A customer who tried to enter the Vineyard Haven store was turned away and told the store was closed. The store reopened shortly after that, with just one register, and management working the store, but closed Friday and has remained that way throughout the strike.
At the Edgartown Stop & Shop, which remained open, employees were alongside the road with signs reading, “Stop & Shop: Do what’s right UFCW.”
Edgartown employees joined their Vineyard Haven counterparts in walking out at 1 pm. Cars driving by honked in support as employees held signs.
The strike call surprised both union workers and management, based on comments on the Edgartown picket line and in the store.
Ben Duncan, 35, shop steward for UFCW Local 328, said the strike resulted from management’s unwillingness to bargain on three issues: wages, health insurance, and pension fund contributions by the company.
“We are not looking for more, we want to keep what we have now,” according to Duncan, who said the company wants to freeze wages and its contribution to union pensions, and reduce contributions and coverage to health insurance plans.
“If they freeze their pension contributions, there won’t be money in the fund when I and others retire,” he said.
Union butcher Dennis Logan, a 23-year-year Stop & Shop vet, said the 20 or so picketers on Thursday would remain on the picket line “7 am to 10 pm every day” until the issues are resolved. “We are out here until it’s over,” he said.
The picketers received support from a notable percentage of drivers honking as they passed by on Main Street. Jenny Muces is a new employee, with three weeks on the job. Though bewildered by the sudden strike action, Muces supports the strike. “I was bagging, and suddenly we were all called out,” she said. “I think at first it might be some sort of emergency drill.”
Her surprise was mirrored by store manager Mary McEvoy, staffing the 12-items-or-less checkout line. “Yes, you could say it was a surprise,” she said, working the checkout station. McEvoy referred The Times to Stop & Shop corporate for additional comment.
Joseph Gomes, an employee who works in the deli at the Edgartown store, said he was surprised by the outpouring of support from passersby.
Backing has been coming from Boston, as state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, expressed his support for Stop & Shop employees in a statement through his legislative aide Monday.
“I stand in solidarity with the Stop & Shop workers in their pursuit of fair compensation to live and provide for their families. This must not get lost in the noise: The Cape & Islands’ cost of living, healthcare costs, and the seemingly ever-increasing housing prices make this place that we love and call home all too often difficult to stay ahead in. The people who live, work, volunteer, raise their children here are the ones that keep our towns running and make our communities strong –– your voices are strong and are being heard,” Fernandes said.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, offered his support to the workers at Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod Stop & Shop stores on Twitter. “I have the greatest respect for you and the hard work you do every day to make all your customers have a wonderful experience,” he wrote.
Freelance writer Jack Shea contributed to this report.