EDuring the early afternoon of last Thursday, 31,000 Stop & Shop employees decided to switch up business as usual by suspending their regular work day activities and hitting the streets and sidewalks in an effective labor union strike.

Of those 31,000 store employees, some of them work right here in Washington County.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328 represents hundreds of Stop & Shop workers here in southern Rhode Island. Alongside the other four UFCW locals that represent Stop & Shop employees throughout New England, they too ordered a work stoppage on Thursday.

The union-ordered strike comes months after their respective contracts expired in February. Even well before the expiration date, union officials and company executives have been meeting regularly to negotiate the terms of their new contract. However, last week, the union representatives decided that enough was enough.

Meghan Wenz, a third-year political science and history student here at URI, is an employee at the North Kingstown Stop and Shop on 10 Rod Road. Alongside all of her colleagues in North Kingstown, she has been out of work standing on the picket lines.  

Wenz joined the North Kingstown team in June 2017, and has been represented by UFCW Local 328 ever since. They’re fighting for better wages, a reliable pension and sufficient healthcare coverage.

“The company is trying to increase the [health insurance] deductible, increase prescription costs, and exclude spouses from insurance plans, as well as taking away the current pension program,” said Wenz.

Wenz works with some employees who have been at the company for 10 or more years, and says that many of these proposed cuts would hurt them more than they would hurt her.

“I would hate seeing the company these people have given their life to take advantage of them like that,” she said.

Meghan said that she was surprised at the positive responses from most of the customers she interacted with when she was on the picket line.

“I think the strike really brings out the best in people,” she said. “A woman came by with homemade food and a mother and her son came and brought us a jug of coffee and hot water along with cream, sugar and cups.”

Wenz said that many members of the community member have supported those who are on strike.

“People drove into our parking lot just to show their support,” Wenz said. “Overall, the customers have been patient, kind and understanding.”

Sophomore Alyssa Pasniewski lives off campus and relies on Stop & Shop in Narragansett for her weekly grocery shopping. “Since Stop & Shop is right on my way home [from campus], it has been very difficult to have to go out of my way after a long day on campus, working and going to class,” Pasniewski said

Pasniewski also said that shopping at Stop & Shop is easy for her. “After going to Stop and Shop for the whole year, I adjusted to where everything was located and grocery shopping took me around 20 minutes,” she said.

For Alyssa, that is no longer the case. In the meantime, she’ll have to buy her groceries at the Shaws located in Wakefield.

Wentz and her friends at Stop & Shop thanked the community for their support and asked customers to keep from stopping and shopping at their store, or any of the chain’s stores in the region. Not only do they want their strike to be protected, but due to a lack of workers in the store, they fear that some of the perishable products may not be entirely safe.