When we talk about strikes, it’s very easy to romanticize them. That’s an error. Strikes are scary and they cause a lot of stress upon workers, as they are for the Stop and Shop workers, now a week into their strike. But also do not fret, this strike has been incredibly effective and Stop and Shop is really feeling the pressure:
The Stop & Shop on Newport Avenue in Quincy was eerily quiet Tuesday morning, the hum of refrigeration and chattering of product ads over the intercom among the only signs of life in the largely empty store. The deli and meat departments were dark, their counters mostly bare, and the produce display for bananas was barren.
At the Roslindale store, bakery cases and the hot food bar were empty, kale and mustard greens were nowhere to be found, and the only open lanes were the self-checkout ones. The Hyde Park store was locked, as it has been since the strike began Thursday, according to picketing workers, while one of two Stop & Shops on Nantucket is also closed.The nearly week-old strike by 31,000 unionized Stop & Shop workers is clearly having an impact, with the union contending that at least several dozen of 240 stores in three states are closed, and many shoppers are staying away from those that are still open.
“In nearly 30 years, we haven’t seen a strike as effective and devastating as this one,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm that has evaluated grocery store strikes for three decades.
That assessment includes the six-week boycott of Market Basket stores in 2014 prompted by employees walking off the job to protest the firing of the company president during a family dispute over control of the chain. The Stop & Shop strike is even keeping shoppers away in wealthy communities, Flickinger said, which isn’t always the case.
Stop & Shop would not provide specifics on closures and supplies, noting only that “the majority of stores are open” and that “there have been some delays” on deliveries. On Monday, Stop & Shop sent a letter to customers from president Mark McGowan noting that the deli, seafood, bakery, and customer service counters are not operational, meat selection is limited, and gas stations are closed. Hours are also now limited to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
I was out on a solidarity picket at my local Stop and Shop, where I usually do my shopping, last weekend, and I’d say the picket probably got 30-40% of the people to turn around, with another maybe 10% saying they were just using the bank, which given that it was a Sunday there really wasn’t any other option and the workers were OK with that. So that’s critical. But you know what else is critical? Solidarity from the Teamsters, who, as they have done so many times before, provide invaluable service to the labor movement by refusing to cross picket lines.
Inside stores, shortages are evident. Meat and produce are rapidly disappearing from shelves, and aren’t being replaced because truck drivers in the Teamsters union are refusing to cross the picket line. Workers are blocking other trucks from making deliveries.
And unless Stop and Shop’s parent company is willing to lose a whole lot of money, even those who don’t care about unions and are happy to use the scab technology of self-checkout scanners have no reason to shop there if there’s nothing on the shelves.
Despite their pleas, one customer headed in to pick up some fruit. “I feel awful doing this,” said the woman, who would only give her first name, Barbara, saying she was stopping there because she didn’t want to be late for work.
A few minutes later, she was back outside, empty-handed.
“I just felt like a jerk,” she said. Plus: “All the shelves were empty.”
As much as I don’t like him, Joe Biden is showing up tomorrow for a solidarity action, giving this even more attention. Elizabeth Warren popped in a few days ago. This is all very, very good. And it will give courage for other workers to stand up for themselves through the strike.