For the past two months, over 300 Shaw’s workers have been on strike at Shaw’s warehouse 30 miles away in Methuen. This weekend, the protest came to the MIT Shaw’s on Sidney Street. Picketers in Cambridge handed out flyers in front of the store and asked patrons to boycott Shaw’s until the strike is resolved.
Warehouse workers at the Methuen Distribution Center have been on strike since March 8, after workers rejected a new contract that would have significantly increased their health care costs. They voted 228-8 to go on strike. On April 1, Shaw’s cut off health care coverage for the 300 striking workers.
According to Judy Chong, a representative for Shaw’s, The MIT Shaw’s will not be affected in the near future despite the strike. “We want our customers to know that it is our every intention to serve them and provide them with fresh goods,” Chong said.
In order to maintain normal functions, Shaw’s has begun hiring permanent replacement workers. Chong says the decision to hire new workers was difficult but necessary.
The Methuen Distribution Center serves 176 Shaw’s stores across New England, including the stores in the Cambridge and Boston area. Workers and sympathizers started picketing outside the distribution center at the beginning of the strike, but they have since expanded and are now picketing at 19 Shaw’s stores, both unionized and non-unionized. Many of the picketers are from local Shaw’s unions.
The major sticking point in the new contract was a disagreement over how to distribute a 13 percent increase in health care costs. Under the original contract, a large part of the increase would fall on employees, significantly increasing costs of premiums for workers. The union felt this increase was an unreasonable burden on workers, especially those who support families.
Two contracts have been voted down by the union to date, and little consensus has been made between the two groups. Chong said, “It is unnecessary that the union continues to perpetuate this otherwise unnecessary strike…they have voted down or voted to dismiss two fair and reasonable contract offers.”
Spokesman Peter Derouen for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 791 said, “The second [contract] offer was worse than the first one…that one was basically a joke.” The strike has stirred support on the national stage, getting recognition from workers of other supermarkets owned by Supervalu, the conglomerate that owns Shaw’s.
Workers are becoming involved across the nation, from as far as Maryland and Virginia. They have started to wear stickers urging Supervalu to take action and settle the strike as soon as possible.
U.S. Representative Steven F. Lynch, representing Massachusetts’s 9th District, and other local and state officials have joined the workers on the picket lines. Lynch, who was a former union president, said in a statement, “These workers are simply fighting for what’s right and fair. I am proud to join my union brothers and sisters on this picket line.”
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has also become involved in the issue. In a letter addressed to the CEO of Supervalu Craig Herkert and the President of the UFCW Union Local 791 Russel Regan, he urged the two parties to come to a resolution. Patrick encouraged further communication between the two groups.
Derouen said that the union is looking for a “fair and equitable agreement.” Though the union recognizes that costs have increased due to the economic climate, Derouen said that it is looking to “address the needs of the company, and make sure we are being reasonable to the members.”
Both sides have expressed their ongoing commitment to finding a solution. Chong said they will continue to work with a federal mediator to reach a conclusion. Derouen said that striking workers “will continue to go as long as membership stays strong.”