If you haven’t done your grocery shopping yet, now might be the time to stock up. On Monday at roughly 7:30 p.m., workers of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 authorized a strike of Stop & Shop supermarket, which employs 5,500 workers represented by the union. The strike would shut down stores on Long Island, New York City, Westchester, Putnam, and Duchess counties.
Seven hundred workers gathered at two meetings in Westchester and Nassau Counties unanimously authorized the strike. Local Secretary-Treasurer Tony Speelman had this to say about the proceedings:
— UFCW Local 1500 (@UFCW1500) October 28, 2013
At issue is the negotiation over what health benefits will look like with the arrival of the Affordable Care Act, legislation that was sold to some lawmakers as making it easier for some big businesses to offload healthcare costs onto the new state healthcare exchanges.
“We knew going into negotiations that would have to change things because of the Affordable Care Act,” says Patrick Purcell, director of political and legislative affairs with Local 1500. “But it quickly became clear that Stop & Shop was using [the new law] as an excuse to shed costs, reducing healthcare coverage.”
Stop & Shop sees it differently. In a statement to Runnin’ Scared, Stop & Shop sees itself as taken on an even greater burden of healthcare costs with the new federal legislation taking effect.
Stop & Shop is only one of dozens of companies that participates in a health and welfare fund jointly managed by union and employer trustees. In this fund, all the employers have paid the same contribution for the same program of benefits for all the participants in the funds. In all of its proposals to the union, Stop & Shop has proposed to increase its contributions and overall financial commitment to the fund to secure the fund for the future and meet the obligations imposed by the Affordable Care Act.
The old contracts with Stop & Shop expired on September 28. Over the course of negotiations, the contracts have been temporarily extended twice. The second extension expires November 2, meaning the strike could start as early as Sunday.
But striking is the method of last resort of the union; there is a chance that the two sides might engineer a solution between now and November 3.
“We don’t want to disrupt communities, so if there is a way to solve it we will solve it,” explains Purcell. “We are not a strike-happy union.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a Twitter quote to Local 1500 President Bruce Both. The quote came from Local 1500 Secretary-Treasurer Tony Speelman.