Thirty-one thousand union workers in 240 stores across Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island went on strike Thursday to protest a reduction in pension benefits for new hires, an increase in health care premiums, and wage increases that union representatives say would amount to less than a 2 percent raise. The Stop and Shop strike has lasted a week while talks between the company and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union continue.

For many workers, the supermarket – whose roots can be traced back to Boston in the early 1900s – has provided a lifelong career with strong healthcare benefits and a pension plan, but a new contract and new automated technology places that stability in jeopardy.

“It was the best employer to work for,” said Jose Lopes, a local employee who has spent thirty-seven years with the store. Reflecting on a time years before Ahold took control of the company in 1995, Lopes explained to Greater Boston host Jim Braude, “They took care of their employees.”

“Three years ago, we voted to strike… Six years ago, we voted to strike, and now this time around, we’re on strike,” said Jim Griffin, who has spent over three decades with the company, “so, it’s gotten progressively worse.”

Griffin continued, “We're not asking for anything extra. We just want what we have right now.”

At a picket line outside the Quincy Stop and Shop on Monday, Senator Ed Markey echoed this call for protection of benefits, “Their strike is a strike for pension, for health care, for their wages. They have to be protected.” Markey hasn’t been the only politician to come out in support of the UFCW Union’s strike. Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden – who visited a Boston Stop and Shop rally on April 18th – have publicly supported the strikers.

But the strike is not solely about protecting current workers, it’s about the future employees of Stop and Shop. “If you're taking care of adequately, what do you care?” Braude asked of three employees.

“Somebody took care of me. Somebody fought for me,” responded Lopes. Griffin explained further that Stop and Shop’s proposal of a separate pension plan for new employees will weaken the union and ultimately hurt all workers.

Another long-time worker, Paul Baptista responded to concerns on how technology will impact future employees. Even if the union wins favorable contract negotiations, will jobs ultimately be replaced by automation? “There are companies today, supermarket chains that are all about customer service and they’re very successful,” said Baptista, who argues that quality customer services requires a human element.

But employees are still worried about both the contract negotiations and the technology that could replace jobs. “It scares me. I mean, my insurance, my benefits,” said Griffin, “I want to retire at some point. I don’t want to keep working the rest of my life.”

Baptista responded, “I feel a sort of a betrayal… we made what this company is today.”
“The feeling of betrayal is out there,” Griffin agreed. “I mean, we're not asking for much. Just give us what we had originally. They’re just taking things away from us.”

Read more: Stop & Shop Apologizes For Limited Offerings During Strike