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Stop and Shop, Union Trade Final Proposals Before Sunday Vote
[March 06, 2010]

Stop and Shop, Union Trade Final Proposals Before Sunday Vote

Mar 06, 2010 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Negotiators for Stop & Shop and its employee union lobbed proposals and counterproposals back and forth Friday but the offers fell short of an agreement as both sides worked to avert a strike.

Talks are set to resume today in Providence, pressing closer to Sunday's scheduled votes by 36,000 union members in southern New England, including 15,000 in Connecticut.

"The company gave us a counterproposal about 3 p.m.," Brian Petronella, president of Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said Friday. "We're going to review it and then give them a counterproposal tomorrow morning." The five UFCW locals plan to have their members vote Sunday on the company's last offer, with or without a thumbs-up by union leadership.

While most of the issues involving health care premiums have been resolved, "we're still apart on wages," said Petronella, who declined to give details. "It's still not close enough that we can go to the membership and recommend it and have it ratified." "The ball is in the company's court," Petronella said.

Labor experts not involved in the talks said Friday that signs point toward an agreement this weekend, rather than a strike.

That, in fact, was the company's tone Friday. Faith Weiner, a Stop & Shop spokeswoman, described Friday's talks as "focused, candid and substantive." "Our goal during these sustained talks is to reach a fair agreement that will allow us to continue to provide good jobs to our associates and serve our customers for many years to come. Both sides have been engaged in good faith negotiations and we are hopeful that there will be an offer union leadership can take back to their members this weekend," Weiner said in a prepared statement Friday.

Jonathan Cutler, a Wesleyan University sociology professor who studies organized labor, said despite the prolonged talks, the company's optimistic comments during the extended negotiations are signs of a pending agreement.

"If Stop & Shop were getting ready for a strike, they'd be barking like crazy," Cutler said.

It's usually clear whether a union will strike: If the rhetoric is hardening, if the union is calling for action or work stoppages, it's likely a strike is in the offing," said Kent Wong, director of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California Los Angeles.

On the other hand, said Wong, who closely followed the massive Southern California grocery strike a few years ago, "if the two sides are still making progress, if the relationship is amicable, if they're still making headway at the bargaining table -- those are indicators that a strike is less likely to occur, although there will be times it can take you off guard." At noon Friday, the Stop & Shop employees began working without a contract after the union locals gave 24-hour notice. The union can cut off talks and call a strike any time. But Petronella and other union officials said there will be no strike until after members vote Sunday.

Weiner said the company intends to uphold pay and other provisions of the previous contract while negotiations take place.

Local 919, which represents nearly 10,000 Stop & Shop workers, plans to meet at the Bushnell in Hartford at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Local 371 has booked its meeting at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, also at 10 a.m. Sunday. It represents 5,000 Connecticut Stop & Shop employees, most of them meat, deli and seafood workers.

Each local can act independently on the issue of contract agreements and strikes, but traditionally the five have worked in unison.

On Friday, the Connecticut AFL-CIOpledged its support.

"Considering that this company has a large share of the market, there is no reason that the Stop & Shop workers should not receive a good wage increase, health care insurance and a pension," said John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

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