Shaw’s employees back to work

July 21, 2010

METHUEN, Mass.--After a 17-week strike, warehouse workers at a distribution center for the Shaw's supermarket chain voted 171-37 to approve a new contract.

The vote by members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 791 took place on July 8 and brought to an end the dispute that had kept workers out on the picket line since March 7. At issue was the supermarket chain's refusal to absorb any of the 13 percent increase in health care premiums, which would have cut workers' pay by $28 per week--nearly $1,500 per year.

The settlement, which was facilitated by a federal mediator, included both gains and concessions by the union. The new four-year contract reportedly includes wage increases and higher contributions to the employee health plan from both the company and workers. Retirement benefits will not change under terms of the new contract. Specific details have not been released due to a non-disclosure clause in the settlement.

The good news for workers is that they will be returning to their jobs, and replacement workers hired by the company will be phased out.

The strike gained nationwide attention because of a boycott launched against the parent company of Shaw's, SuperValu, Inc., which also owns Acme, Albertsons, Osco Pharmacy and Star Supermarkets. It is hard to assess the effectiveness of the boycott, but there was widespread solidarity among a broad range of unions, community organizations and religious groups in supporting the workers.

UFCW official Peter Derouen expressed thanks to the thousands who stood with the workers during the difficult struggle. Throughout the four-month ordeal, the workers and their allies were able to maintain pickets not only at the warehouse in Methuen, but at 16 different retail stores in the chain. There were numerous rallies during the strike, as well as a five-day, 60-mile march to Boston by workers and their families.

Speaking on behalf of Jobs With Justice, which helped coordinate solidarity efforts, Massachusetts chapter Executive Director Russ Davis said, "The victory lies not so much in the actual contract, which contains some modest gains as well as concessions, but in the ability of the workers to withstand the attempt by SuperValu, the parent company of Shaw's, to crush the workers and break the union."

The Shaw's action has been an inspiration to other workers in the region who are threatened by corporate abuses in a weak economic climate, and the struggle is one in which all workers can find encouragement.

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