Stop & Shop workers are making history. Within seven days, 31,000 workers at hundreds of stores in New England walked off the job. The contract between Stop & Shop, a subsidiary of the Dutch retail giant Ahold Delhaize, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) expired on Feb. 23 as workers across New England voted to authorize a strike.
Ahold Delhaize saw $2 billion in profits last year and proposed changes to the contract that would raise workers’ healthcare premiums significantly, effectively reducing take-home pay. UFCW Local 1459 said the company’s proposals for healthcare premiums could result in workers paying more than $800 more for healthcare. As reported in the Tufts Daily, Stop & Shop workers face low pay and high healthcare costs, with insurance failing to cover everything workers and their families need to survive.
Workers have picketed outside hundreds of Stop & Shops over the last few days, including the location on Alewife Brook Parkway, where many Tufts students go for groceries. Students should instead shop at competitors like Wegmans, Market Basket and Whole Foods for the duration of the strike.
Workers depend on customer solidarity to ensure a short strike, as Stop & Shop has announced contingency plans to keep grocery stores open. We cannot cross the picket line; to do so is a profound betrayal of our responsibility to our cities and to workers throughout New England. There’s more at risk here than a week or two worth of groceries. Workers depend on these jobs and on strong unions to make a good living, especially as Massachusetts is eliminating legally mandated premium pay on Sundays and holidays over the next few years. So solidarity with strikers in support of a strong contract can help counteract the anti-worker laws in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizing (AFL-CIO) claimed a defeat for the UFCW workers would result in worse customer service and longer lines for customers, as well as deepening poverty and precarity for workers. In crossing the picket line, we endanger the collective power of grocery workers and give more power to the employers.
But taking our business elsewhere is the bare minimum amount of support when workers are standing up to a multi-billion-dollar international corporation. We can also join picket lines, as members of Tufts Labor Coalition and Tufts Dining Action Coalition have; we can bring food and coffee to strikers; and we can offer our company to them in this harrowing time. Given all the talk of community, civic engagement and breaking out of the Tufts bubble at this school, we should live up to our moral obligations as students by standing with workers. Workers need our support, and we should offer it until the company gives in. United we bargain, divided we beg.