041119 REG Stop&Shop strikers 196.JPG

Striking employee Morgan Harris greets cars entering the parking lot at the Pawcatuck Stop & Shop on April 11. The company and union officials both said Sunday evening that they had reached an agreement on a new contract. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

Stop & Shop supermarket workers and company officials reached a tentative contract agreement Sunday evening, according to releases from both sides.

The tentative three-year agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union is subject to ratification votes by members of each of the union locals, the company said. The agreement applies to workers in both Rhode Island and Connecticut, including stores in Westerly, Groton, Pawcatuck and Richmond.

“Our associates’ top priority will be restocking our stores so we can return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the service they deserve,” the company said. “We deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

The company said the agreement ends employee strikes that started April 11 at 240 of Stop & Shop’s 415 supermarkets across the Northeast, including 92 stores in Connecticut and 27 in Rhode Island. Stop & Shop is a subsidiary of Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize. Workers at company stores in New York and New Jersey were not on strike.

The Stop & Shop workers’ contract expired Feb. 23 and bargaining went into mediation following the announcement of the strike with the two sides apparently far apart in their proposals. The union has said workers were on strike to protest the company’s proposed cuts to health care, take-home pay and other benefits.

Union representatives told the Associated Press Sunday night that “today is a powerful victory for the 31,000 hardworking men and women of Stop & Shop who courageously stood up to fight for what all New Englanders want.”

The tentative agreement includes “increased pay for all associates, continued excellent health coverage for eligible associates, and ongoing defined benefit pension benefits for all eligible associates,” the company said.

“Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities enjoy the best shopping experience possible and to keep Stop & Shop the number one grocery store in New England,” the union said. “The agreement preserves health care and retirement benefits, provides wage increases, and maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sunday for current members.”

The company limited its offerings amid the strikes, allowing many of its stores to open for 12 hours, seven days a week, but offering basic service. Departments including the bakery, customer service desk, deli, seafood counters and gas stations were not operational during the strike.

Across the region, as picketers held their line at local stores, supermarket chains including Aldi and McQuade’s Marketplace in Westerly were left trying to help service the overflow of customers supporting the strike. The increased foot traffic was noticeable heading into the Easter holiday, with all checkout lanes at McQuade’s open and lines building throughout the day at each Friday and Saturday.

Lisa Leach, of Stonington, said in an April 12 interview with The Sun that she normally shops at both the Pawcatuck Stop & Shop and Mystic Big Y. During the strike, she had avoided crossing the picket line and noted in the interview that she expected a resolution fairly quickly.

“You’ve got food going to waste and that’s a major issue and if it’s all-New England wide, then it’s definitely hitting their pocketbooks,” she said.

She also said seeing a strike was unusual compared with 40 years ago. At Stop & Shop, the last strike was in 1988.

The limited offerings also impacted Passover shopping throughout New England, as Stop & Shop is the region’s largest supermarket chain and has deep roots in the local Jewish community. A number of rabbis in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island advised their congregations not to cross picket lines to buy Jewish holiday essentials.

“The food that you’re buying is the product of oppressed labor and that’s not kosher,” Rabbi Barbara Penzner, of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, a reconstructionist synagogue in Boston, said last week. “Especially during Passover, when we’re celebrating freedom from slavery, that’s particularly egregious.”

Multiple public figures came out in support of the workers as well. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren stood on a picket line April 12 in Somerville, Massachusetts, saying she would fight for the “dignity of working people.”

Connecticut Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, supported Stop & Shop employees in Connecticut. Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met with workers outside a store in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Two more Democratic 2020 candidates, South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, visited stores in support of the workers as well.

A former NHL player for the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, defenseman Ray Bourque, was caught in the middle of the strike when he was seen crossing a picket line to shop at a Massachusetts store. Bourque apologized for crossing the line and promised to walk the picket line in solidarity with Stop & Shop workers once his medical issue was resolved.

Sun staff reports were used in this article.

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