Unions strike back

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The union workers for Stop & Stop called their international company’s bluff, and behold, Ahold Delhaize blinked.

The strike has made a bit of a comeback in settling workplace disputes. In 2018, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics, 485,000 workers walked a picket line — the highest total since 1986. Given that labor statistics show that only 10.5 percent of U.S. workers are members of a union, that’s a dramatic increase: Because during the 1980s, 20 percent of workers were members of a union.

Who won this battle? The details of the Stop & Shop contract have not been released because union members have not yet voted on it, but, according to a Boston Globe report, the union preserved Sunday pay for current workers, as well as pension contributions. In return, the union conceded that future part-timers would not receive those benefits.

In the process of reaching those terms, Stop & Shop lost an estimated $2 million a day, and, quite possibly, some brand loyalty. According to Skyhook, a company that provides analysis based on mobile devices, 75 percent of Stop & Shop customers stayed away from the store during the 11-day strike.

For the Island, the Stop & Shop strike was particularly difficult. While shoppers on the mainland could easily shop at an alternative supermarket with similar prices, such as Shaw’s, Roche Bros., or Hannaford (albeit with longer lines); on the Vineyard you either crossed the picket line in Edgartown, shopped in the more expensive Cronig’s, or found a way to shop at Reliable in Oak Bluffs. While many people who had not shopped at Reliable praised the store and its employees for their prices and courtesy, it’s difficult to find parking in and around the Circuit Ave. location. That meant some long walks with a grocery cart full of bags.

But most Vineyard customers took the strike in stride. People brought the picketing workers food and water. They offered well wishes when passing them by on the street and honked their horns in support when passing by in vehicles. They also got solid support from state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, as well as from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The Vineyard Haven store remained closed throughout the strike without much explanation from the corporate giant. It didn’t open until a full day after the rest of the stores opened. (We found this puzzling since most off-Island stores reopened right away, even with the lack of stock, which was given as the reason for the Vineyard Haven store remaining closed.)

The Edgartown store donated food to Island nonprofits so they could help with meals prior to Easter Sunday, and both stores donated to Island Grown Initiative, which distributed the food. However, the Vineyard Haven store tossed a significant amount of perishables into a dumpster to be hauled away — the dirty little secret of the strike spilling out onto the street for a few moments on Monday as ABC Disposal attempted to dump the overstuffed bin into its trash compactor.

Seeing those oranges, apples, and other perishables rolling around on Cromwell Lane and into the town parking lot was particularly disheartening. We wish the company had done even more to get this food into the hands of people who could use it before it spoiled.

Ultimately, we hope the Vineyard Transit Authority is taking notes. Bus drivers for the VTA have authorized a strike, a step taken by Stop & Shop workers before they eventually walked out. It’s been a long, slow slog to get the parent company of the drivers, TCI, to even recognize the union, let alone negotiate with them in good faith.

Let’s not get to the point where the bus drivers feel a need to walk off the job and actually strike. Unlike Stop & Shop, where there were options for customers to get their groceries, there is no reasonable and affordable substitute for the public transportation provided by the VTA.

Roll up your sleeves and find a resolution before the impasse reaches the critical point of an actual strike. Summer is coming.