Fourteen United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union locals said they’re filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board in connection with Stop & Shop’s phaseout of COVID-19 “appreciation pay” for frontline grocery store workers.
The UFCW locals in New York, New Jersey and New England — representing 70,000 Stop & Shop supermarket workers — on Tuesday claimed that the Quincy, Mass.-based retailer “walked away” from collective bargaining negotiations and “unilaterally cut workers' wages” by ending bonus pay initiated during the coronavirus pandemic, even though “hazardous conditions” remain for store associates. The 10% pay increase for hourly associates lapsed at 12 a.m. on July 5.
In late May, Stop & Shop extended the 10% pay hike through July 4. The “appreciation pay” was first instituted by Stop & Shop on March 20 and then, in late April, was extended to May 30 as the COVID-19 crisis continued.
The chain, part of Ahold Delhaize USA, said at the time that the pay bonus recognizes associates’ efforts during the pandemic and covers about 56,000 workers in more than 400 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. The retailer said it also continued offering flexible hours for associates and up to two weeks of additional paid sick leave for employees required to quarantine by government authorities or the company.
However, the unions — including UFCW Locals 1, 152, 328, 342, 360, 371, 464A, 888, 919, 1262, 1445, 1459 and 1500 plus the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)/UFCW Local 338 — said Stop & Shop stopped paying the bonus even as its members still face the threat of catching the virus. In late June, UFCW International reported that at least 82 grocery store workers died from COVID-19 and 11,507 were infected or exposed to the virus in the first 100 days of the outbreak.
“Stop and Shop’s decision to leave the table the very same day that New York rolled back the critical phase-three implementation of indoor dining shows just how hazardous and dangerous our members’ indoor work environment continues to be,” the 14 UFCW locals said in a statement on Tuesday. “Stop and Shop abjectly refused every possible solution presented by our collective unions, in violation of our members rights under our respective collective bargaining agreements, and we will be filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board.”
Stop & Shop said Tuesday that it worked with UFCW to introduce the appreciation pay program in March and jointly announced the July 4 extension in tandem with the union.
“We are aware [UFCW] Local 1500 has filed a charge alleging that Stop & Shop failed to bargain over the end of appreciation pay. The charge is meritless,” Stop & Shop said in a statement. “The UFCW and its locals have engaged in many discussions with Stop & Shop regarding appreciation pay and the two extensions of the program to date. Local 1500 has acknowledged these discussions and our partnership in extending the program both on their social media pages and in their leaflets.”
Stop & Shop also noted that, in late April, it joined UFCW International’s effort calling on federal and state governments to classify grocery workers as emergency first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We deeply appreciate the extraordinary efforts of our associates and have been pleased to offer and extend our appreciation pay program for longer than nearly every other food retailer,” Stop & Shop said in its statement on Tuesday. “The purpose of this temporary extra pay was to recognize our associates for their hard work during an unprecedented surge in demand and customer traffic. As states continue to reopen, we are returning to pre-COVID levels of traffic and demand. We are continuing to take significant steps to keep our associates and customers safe and will continue to offer our associates a flexible leave policy and additional paid sick leave.”
Overall, UFCW International represents 1.3 million employees in grocery, meatpacking, food processing, retail, health care and other industries in the U.S. and Canada. The union reported that, among its total membership, 238 workers died and nearly 29,000 were infected or exposed during the pandemic’s initial 100 days.
Late last week, UFCW International said it partnered with a coalition of more than 100 health experts in calling for public face mask mandates in all 50 states. The effort included a full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times print edition that asked governors, congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration to immediately require face coverings in public nationwide. The move came as the United States surpassed the 3 million mark in total COVID-19 cases, with deaths exceeding 135,000.
“Our members didn’t sign up to be frontline heroes in a health crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen, but they rose to the call and fed America. The essential pay they received during this crisis isn’t ‘appreciation,’ as Stop and Shop suggests, but critical pay to ensure their families were safe amid the crisis we’re facing — a crisis that is far from over,” the 14 UFCW locals stated Tuesday. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and our members also continue to practice regimented disinfection protocols just to go to work everyday and ensure their families are safe when they return. During the pandemic, their jobs have fundamentally changed. They are more stressful and more physically demanding. The emotional and mental labor expended by our members hasn’t lifted, and their essential pay shouldn’t either.”