PROVINCETOWN — Hazard pay is top of mind for members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union Local 328 as they negotiate their new contract with Stop & Shop.
In April 2019, the chain’s workers went on strike when negotiations broke down. Many Provincetown residents showed support for the workers by refusing to cross picket lines that year. During the strike, residents brought so much food to the picketing employees that “we all gained 20 pounds,” said Linda Jodko-Stewart, one of the union stewards at the store.
Negotiations are proceeding more smoothly than in past years, Jodko-Stewart said. She is confident the union and company will reach an agreement before the current contract expires on March 1.
The company’s 2019 proposal increased health insurance costs, cut back pension funding, and aimed to replace raises with bonuses. The 11-day strike ended when Stop & Shop agreed to preserve those benefits and raise wages.
“We couldn’t have done it without the community’s support,” said Jodko-Stewart, who has worked at 56 Shank Painter Road (at the A&P, Grand Union, and now Stop & Shop) for 31 years. “I think the company learned a lesson,” she added.
A year after the strike, the coronavirus prompted Stop & Shop to pay workers hazard wages — an additional 10 percent, according to the union steward.
That benefit ended July 4, 2020. And while employee complaints led to the extension of hazard pay through Labor Day, Jodko-Stewart reported, “It’s still busy during September and October, and we’re here every day.”
Though the company provided occasional bonuses throughout 2021, associates received no hazard wages that year.
The 415-store chain is a subsidiary of Dutch-owned Ahold Delhaize. Figures for Stop & Shop’s annual revenue vary, but $15.2 billion is the most frequently cited number.
Fear of Covid exposure is a daily reality for Jodko-Stewart, who buys her own KN-95 masks. Yet even as she worried about health risks, she recognized that the pandemic provides some advantages during negotiations.
“Because of Covid, the company won’t find scabs,” she said. “I think we’re in a much better position this year, and I hope they realize we’ve been true to them. We’ve been here every day doing our jobs.
“I personally don’t think we’re going to get anything taken away,” Jodko-Stewart added. But she and others are looking for a concrete sign of gratitude from the company. “The Covid pay would show appreciation for our work,” she said.
Stop & Shop currently advertises a $17 starting hourly wage, significantly more than the Massachusetts minimum wage of $14.25.
Managerial staff from both the Provincetown and Orleans Stop & Shop stores declined to comment for this story, and the representative from UFCW 328 did not respond to interview requests.
Store and union officials will meet again on Feb. 10 and 11 when the company will present their counter to the union’s most recent general wage increase proposal.