EAST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- A two-day labor strike at Shaw's Supermarkets here -- the first ever in the company's 137-year history -- ended last week when labor and management reached an agreement over the sharing of health care costs.
Local 791 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union called for a walkout last Monday at 12:01 a.m., just minutes after its former contract with Shaw's expired. Talks had broken down the previous Saturday night after both sides reached an impasse, mainly over employee health insurance contributions.
But by Wednesday afternoon, the union members -- 6,500 employees at 28 Massachusetts stores, 11 Rhode Island stores and one Massachusetts warehouse -- overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year contract and went back to work.
Shaw's had proposed a contract that called for full-time employees to begin paying $6 per week for a family health insurance plan. Individuals were asked to contribute $3 per week for coverage.
Under the approved contract, workers will contribute $4 per week for family insurance coverage, and $2 per week for individual coverage. The union also fought off a proposal to have the members pay 50% of any future increases in health insurance premiums.
"There was no fix on that cost," said Russell Regan, president of Local 791. "We would have had no control over that, and it could have really strapped our part-time members."
Regan told SN the ratified contract also calls for the following provisions:
Job security for full-rated, full-time store employees, full-time warehouse employees and maintenance personnel.
Increases in both wages and pension benefits, which Regan described as above industry standard.
No changes in the way members earn and use accrued vacation, holiday and sick time. Regan said the union was glad to have the strike over.
"I don't think anybody wins in a long protracted strike," he said. "We want to put this behind us. Their success is our success. But I hope this sends a message that they have to treat their employees better."
Shaw's spokesman Bernard Rogan said, "A lot of people are relieved. In the past 137 years, Shaw's has never had a strike. Somehow, the [negotiations] have always been settled in the 11th hour."
Rogan said Shaw's contracts with other unions are years away from expiring. "It is a major accomplishment to have this settled so fast so we can focus on our continued expansions," Rogan said. Replacement workers -- culled from Shaw's supermarkets in other markets -- were brought in to operate the stores. Rogan said four times as many Shaw's employees volunteered to fill in than were required to operate the stores, including a small percentage of employees represented by other unions. Headquarters personnel were also on hand at the stores and the warehouse, he added. During the strike, Shaw's reduced the hours of store operation from 16 and 18 hours per day to 14 hours. The exact amount of lost sales attributed to the strike was not immediately known. A private security force was retained to protect the stores and the employees, although there were no flare-ups on the picket lines, Rogan said. Local 791 held a series of meetings last Wednesday for each of its four constituent groups to ratify the proposed contracts. The first group to meet -- full-time store employees, including service clerks -- approved the contract, setting the stage for a quick resolution. The other groups to ratify the contract were warehouse and store maintenance employees; part-time employees; and meat department workers, including meat managers, second people, meatcutters and apprentice meatcutters. The strike at the Rhode Island stores was the first supermarket strike in Rhode Island in 27 years, said local industry watchers. Full-page ads announcing the resolution of the strike were scheduled to run in 10 daily newspapers last Friday, Rogan said.