Part-Timers Keep Health Benefits In Stop & Shop Settlement

by Allan Appel | March 12, 2007 8:11 AM | | Comments (0)

IMG_1051.JPGThe contentious stop-and-go negotiations between Stop & Shop and its five unions came to a surprising yet happy conclusion with a three-year contract overwhelmingly ratified by union members across New England, and a strike averted. David R. Huckaby, a 19-year old freshman at Gateway Community College, who is a union member and a part-time worker for nearly a year at the Amity Road super store, stopped reining in shopping cars briefly to say, "I'm real happy I won't have to be walking around with a sign" -- or starting to have money taken out of his check every week for health insurance.

With union negotiating updates, which were sent to members as late as Saturday in the afternoon, still citing serious sticking points on the central issues of health care and wages and a strike as "distinctly possible," much progress must have been made in the non-stop final hours of talks, which were held in Providence, Rhode Island.

IMG_1050.JPGThe agreement, which Brian Petronella, president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 371, said was unanimously ratified, featured these main points: On wages, all full-time workers will receive an increase of $25 per week retroactive to Feb. 17, when the previous contract expired; then another $20 weekly increase in March 2008 and March 2009, the second and third years of the contract. Part-timers receive an immediate 35 cents an hour increase, also retroactive, and 35 cents yet again in years two and three of the contract.

On the critical issue of health care, full-time workers who are single must now contribute $5 per week toward their health insurance premiums; married workers with spouse must pay $10, and a worker with a family $15. Part-time workers will make no contributions toward health care premiums, retaining the current practice which covers union workers health insurance entirely except for co-payments and deductibles. That part time workers -- 80 percent of the Stop & Shop workforce - would be asked to start making weekly contributions to the health plan had been a major concern of the unions, and a potential deal-breaker.

Petronella also said pensions would be maintained by an increased contribution by the company, although no details were provided. "All in all," he said in a phone message, "we are very pleased."

The sentiment was echoed by Robert Keane, spokesman for Stop & Shop, which is owned by the Dutch conglomerate Royal Ahold: "Always proud of being a union company, Stop & Shop's goal throughout the negotiations," he said, reading the official statement of the company, "has been to end up with a contract that will allow us to remain competitive and the leading supermarket in the field in New England, at the same time that we offer our associates significantly improved benefits. This has happened. I think people on both sides are very happy with this outcome."

IMG_1046.JPGBailey Goff certainly was. "If there had been a strike, it would not have been any good," said the 17-year-old student from Cooperative Arts High School. She wants to be a painter, but until that happens full time, she's been working part time, about 14 to 17 hours a week, at Stop & Shop. She hadn't heard any of the details of the settlement, only that meetings had been scheduled.

When told the results by a reporter, she said, "Now those checks can keep coming."

IMG_1049.JPGBetty Forbes, a part-time worker for five years, was not so pleased, but philosophical. "I'm a religious person," she said, "and I trust that this is the decision God wanted." Still in all, Forbes, who has another job (full time), which provides her with health insurance, had her quibbles with the agreement. "I don't think it's fair," she said, "to make the full-time workers pay as much as they are now being asked. It should have been a lot less."

She also had concerns about the prescription benefits provided through the Stop & Shop plan, which, she said, were not very generous.

According to a bulletin sent to members of UFCW local 919 by its president, Mark A. Espinosa, after the settlement, "Immediate benefit improvements include prescription benefits being doubled for both full time and part time Stop & Shop employees." No further details could be obtained at press time.

However, news of the increased prescription coverage pleased Forbes, who said her benefit now, when she avails herself of it, is generally in the area of $5 per prescription.

Although results of the voting were not available from all unions, which met at five different sites in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut on Sunday, ratification of the agreement appeared to be decisive. Nearly 3,000 people from UFCW 919, gathering in Cromwell, voted overwhelmingly to ratify. And "overwhelming" was the adjective used by Petronella for the ratification conclave of UCFW371 in Bridgeport. UFCW 1451 reported that more than 600 workers turned out in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and voted 597 to 4 to give the agreement a thumbs up.

IMG_1047.JPGSo these barricades will be used to facilitate loading and unloading of groceries, not to organize picket lines, at least for some time to come. A store manager, who refused to allow a photograph to be taken in the store or to make any statement on his own without corporate approval, did say that the general atmosphere among his workers is relief. Details of the agreement are being sent out to all union members in the coming days.


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