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If you live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Connecticut, you've probably heard about the possibility of a strike at Stop & Shop.  For the rest of us, here's a summary from the Providence Journal: Stop & Shop workers OK strike option

Employees of Stop & Shop who are represented by a labor union have voted to authorize a strike against the supermarket chain. Negotiations on a labor contract nevertheless are scheduled to resume [Tuesday]. ...

The chain, based in Quincy, Mass., wants union workers to contribute to their health-care premiums and allow it to switch from an employer-paid pension fund to a 401(k) plan for new employees. Riley said the employees would be willing to help pay the premiums if their health-care plan is improved.

More details on the potential Stop & Shop strike, plus a compilation of editorials on Iowa's Fair Share bill and anti-teacher union comments from Steve Jobs beyond the fold.

The Main Dispute

Short Answer: Health care.

As the lede explains, Stop & Shop currently pays for employee health care.  The Hartford Courant has more:

Stop & Shop currently covers 100 percent of its union employees' health care premiums, although employees cover co-payments and deductibles.

In the current negotiations, the company wants employees to cover a portion of the premiums.

Govoni said the union was willing to consider shifting some premium costs to employees, but believes the company's proposal goes too far.

At this point, all 5 UFCW locals involved in the negotiation have authorized a strike.  However, the union has promised that there will not be a strike until after negotiations which are happening from today to Thursday.

The Battle for Public Opinion

The Providence Journal describes some of the posturing that has been going on:

In a full-page advertisement yesterday in The Providence Sunday Journal, Stop & Shop representatives highlighted their connection to the community and sought to explain their reasoning behind the negotiations.

"The retail environment in New England is changing and growing increasingly competitive," the ad said. "Stop & Shop is the only predominantly unionized supermarket chain left in New England. Virtually all of our competitors employ non-union labor in their stores, who make contributions to the cost of their healthcare. Our union associates do not make contributions toward the purchase of their health care coverage."

Union members of Local 328 also took out a full page ad, lambasting the company owners and asking for community support.

"When Stop & Shop was an American-owned company, they cared about their employees," the ad stated. "Now that they are owned by a FOREIGN CORPORATION, they only care about the bottom line. .. The next time you are shopping at Stop & Shop, please tell the store manager that if the employees of Stop & Shop are forced to go out on strike, you will NOT cross the picket line to shop in their store."

This fight will occur in the battle of public opinion as much if not more than it will in the negotiation room.  Stop & Shop will be far more willing to negotiate if shoppers switch to competitors while a strike is going on.  Furthermore, if Stop & Shop can see that there will be pressure, a contract may be able to be reached without a strike occuring.

One other thing to note in the battle of public opinion is that Stop & Shop has another disaster to deal with: Shoppers fearful after Stop & Shop data theft.  Data thieves tampered with several keypads, allowing for fraudulent charges and identity theft.  While this is bad news all around, I'm sure that the last time Stop & Shop would have wanted this to occur is right in the middle of a labor dispute.

What You Should Do

matthewRI has already diaried about this topic.  The two most important tips are, "Do NOT cross the picket line and shop at Stop & Shop", and "Tell all of your friends and family to NOT cross the picket line either".  While you probably are aware you shouldn't cross the line, your friends and family may not.  Feel free to let them know that they should avoid shopping at Stop & Shop while a strike is going on.

If you do go to Stop & Shop in the short term, feel free to let the store management know that you will not shop there during a strike.  matthewRI has a link to a page to fax the CEO of Stop & Shop, but I'm sure that all those faxes are going straight to the garbage.  On the other hand, the average employee at the store probably is already in favor of the strike, and you will merely be commiserating with them.

And for goodness sakes, do NOT sign up as a scab to work there temporarily, or let your "friends" do that.  Stop & Shop is hiring temp workers at $11/hour part-time or $15/hour full-time, about 50% more than normal employees would make.  If you want to let the scabs know your opinion of them, here is a list of scab hiring centers. (Note: Do NOT engage in any criminal or harassing behavior at these centers.)

Fair Share Update

The Fair Share bill has not been acted upon yet by the Iowa House Labor Committee (short reminder: effectively ends Right-To-Work(-for-Less), we want it to pass).  However, this hasn't stopped the newspaper editorial boards across Iowa from commenting on the bill.  And, not surprisingly, every editorial I could find was against the bill.

In an editorial entitled Union power grab must be stopped, The Fort Dodge Messenger says "The power grab that labor bosses are trying to orchestrate in Des Moines is an attempt to win at the Capitol what they aren’t able to achieve in the open marketplace — the financial strength that comes from worker support. ... If this state wants to remain an attractive venue for industrial development, however, it must be aggressively pro-business. Keeping the right-to-work law intact is a vital part of the needed strategy."  

The Quad City Times also opposes the measure.  In its editorial Unions want share that's better than fair, they claim "'Fair share' invites state government involvement directly in the middle of the union-management relationship."  Apparently, allowing two independent groups to form a contract is "government involvement" in the eyes of the Times.  At least they admit that "we don’t expect that sky will fall" as a result of the bill.

The Des Moines Register is against the bill as well.  In their official editorial,  Leave the right-to-work law alone, they claim that "Given the fact that Iowa has to work harder than most states to get its message out to prospective employers, this is a negative Iowa does not need."  Political columnist David Yepsen, the "dean" of Iowa political reporters, claims that Democrats are pushing foolish issues, including fair share, which "has little public support", with "only 40 percent" in favor of it (significantly more people than favor the Iraq War).  Register Business Editor David Elbert tries a different tactic, claiming Unions put existence at risk with 'fair share'.  He says that "If the Iowa law passes, more than a few people think that unions with low memberships run a big risk of having nonunion members demand a vote to decertify the union."  This may or may not be true, but it seems counterintuitive to me at best.  Considering the amount of union-busting that already goes on, I doubt that this bill even could galvanize anti-union forces any further.

A Tale of Two Computer Executives

Steve Jobs and Michael Dell appeared together at an "education reform conference" in Austin, Texas last Friday.  What Mr. Jobs had to say may not go over well with the Apple-loving liberals here: Apple CEO Jobs attacks teacher unions - "'I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,' Jobs said.  'This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.'"  Mr. Dell also commented on teachers unions, and he"responded that unions were created because 'the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good.'  'So now you have these enterprises where they take good care of their people. The employees won, they do really well and succeed.'"

The forum that Jobs and Dell appeared at was the "Texas Public Education Reform Foundation" "Statewide Education Summit", according to the Austin American-Statesman.  The homepage for this group is  As their website is very sparse on details of what they support, I could not find any overt partisan bias.  They support increased testing and "teacher accountability", but there is no mention of vouchers or anything of that sort, and the Board of Directors did not seem to have any significant bias.  The conference did feature both Republican Senators Hutchison and Cornyn and Ross Perot as keynote speakers, but considering it is Texas most of the "prominent elected figures" would be conservatives.

We need to continue to watch out for those who will blame any problems in the education system on teacher's unions.

Originally posted to Power on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 09:23 AM PST.


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