Employees of the Pawcatuck and Westerly Stop & Shop supermarkets joined thousands of fellow workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut who went on strike at 1 p.m. Thursday amid a lengthly contract dispute.

The workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328, picketed both local stores Thursday afternoon, joining workers from Locals 328, 371, 919, 1445 and 1459. Their contract with the company expired on Feb. 23 and bargaining has been going on since January.

More than 31,000 employees authorized union leaders to call the strike. It affects 240 of Stop & Shop’s 415 stores across the Northeast. Stop & Shop, based in Quincy, Massachusetts, is a division of Ahold Delhaize, based in Zaandam, Netherlands.

The company has 92 stores in Connecticut and 27 in Rhode Island and has said it is the only big grocery chain in New England with a fully unionized workforce.

There were several broadcast reports that managers were keeping stores open and allowing customers to use self-checkout lanes. However, the Pawcatuck store was closed as of 2 p.m. Thursday. When a reporter entered the building to check on whether customers could buy groceries, she was asked to leave.

Standing outside wearing hats, gloves and coats against chilly temperatures, some workers offered flyers with the headlines “Stand with the Stop & Shop Community” and “Make Stop & Shop a Better Place to Work and Shop!” to passing cars and pedestrians.

A union spokesman said the company’s latest proposal would require the average full-time employee to pay an additional $893 and the average part-time employee with employee-only coverage to pay an additional $603 in health care premiums over three years.

In addition, the monthly pension benefit for many newly hired full-time employees would be cut by 32 percent, and many part-time employees would receive an average general wage increase of less than 2%, the union said.

Stop & Shop said in a statement posted on its website that it was disappointed with the strike given that negotiations are ongoing with the assistance of federal mediators.

“Additionally, this morning the company made several suggestions to the federal mediators to encourage further bargaining,” the statement said. “The mediators gave those proposals to the locals late in the morning. The locals provided no counterproposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans.”

The company added that its offer includes raises and health and pension benefits it says are better than that at most other food retailers.

The union, however, asserted that the company was demanding unreasonable wage and benefit cuts.

“Instead of a contract that recognizes the value and hard work that our members provide every day, Stop & Shop has only proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health care benefits and take home pay, while replacing real customer service with more serve-yourself checkout machines,” the union statement said.

The number of such self-service checkouts varies considerably from store to store.

The union said that “hardworking men and women at over 240 stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are standing together” to tell Stop & Shop that it was time to do the right thing.

“The men and women who make Stop & Shop a success have earned and deserve affordable health care, a good wage, and the ability to retire with dignity. They have earned and deserve a good job that allows them to do what they do best: provide the very best customer service for New England communities,” the union statement said.

The unions said that Ahold Delhaize earned more than $2 billion in profits last year and received a U.S. tax cut of $225 million in 2017. The company, formally Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize N.V.,  has 123,000 employees worldwide and a market capitalization of nearly $29 billion.

This article incorporates Associated Press reports.

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