EAST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — Settlement of the four-month strike affecting Shaw's Methuen, Mass., distribution center could prove to save the plant itself, although some jobs inside the facility could be changing.
A spokeswoman for Shaw's here told SN that the agreement allows the retailer the right to outsource some work that is currently being done at the facility. Workers in turn were granted severance rights as part of the four-year contract, another source said. Those rights could come into play if Shaw's elects to outsource its meat and deli work to C&S Wholesale Grocers, as the union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791, said during the strike that it might.
Both Shaw's and Local 791 were hesitant to provide specific details of the contract, which was agreed to with the help of a federal mediator and approved by a vote of 171-37 by union members.
Rebekah Fawcett, a spokeswoman for Shaw's Minneapolis-based parent company, Supervalu, told SN that the settlement “includes improvements in wages, access to comprehensive and affordable health care with increased employee and employer contributions, and maintenance of retirement benefits at their current levels — all of which are comparable to terms proposed by the company after the strike began.”
Peter Derouen, a spokesman for Local 791, told SN that the deal is superior to the last contract offer Shaw's had made. He said settling a contract would ultimately benefit workers throughout Shaw's.
“The union's responsibility is to the long-term interests of workers, not just to the 300 in that warehouse, but those in the retail locations,” he said. “Leadership felt that prolonging this dispute probably would not result in any better significant agreement.
“I believe we have a contract now that allows the company to remain viable in a fiercely competitive retail environment in New England,” Derouen added. “Our main objective is jobs — so if we can keep people employed with very good wages, comprehensive affordable health care and pension benefits, we're doing good.”
Fawcett said that union workers would gradually return to work in the coming weeks.
Around 300 workers at the plant went on strike on March 7 when their previous contract with Shaw's expired, saying the contract offer included too many wage and insurance concessions. The Boston Globe reported that the number of striking workers dwindled to around 240 after some crossed the picket line and some retired.