Wilton Stop & Shop employees walk out on strike

UPDATE: Friday — 11:20 a.m. — This morning, State Sen. Will Haskell (D-Wilton) joined workers at the Wilton Stop & Shop grocery store in support of their strike against the company. The strike, which started Thursday, comes as workers protest unfair labor practices from the grocery store chain.

“I’m proud to stand with these workers as they fight for a living wage,” Haskell said. “Income equality is not just a national problem — it’s a local problem here in Fairfield County. If you work in our community, I will stand by your side in the fight for affordable healthcare and wages that allow you to put food on the table.”

Thursday — 10:07 p.m. —There were no cashiers at the registers in the Stop & Shop in Wilton Center as employees joined their New England union brethren in walking out Thursday afternoon, April 11, after contract negotiations broke down.

Employees across New England walked out and some stores closed — including in Hamden, Bridgeport, Greenwich and Branford — turning away customers, although their pharmacies remained open. The Wilton Stop & Shop remained open with customers using self-scanning registers.

A group of employees stood along River Road with signs saying "Bargaining in Bad Faith" and chanting "Don't Stop, Don't Shop" to motorists passing by. Many honked their horns in support. Others stood with their signs near the store's entrance. They did not interfere with customers going in or out of the store.

According to grocery manager Ray Sharkey, workers in 400 stores "went out at 1:00. We will be out as long as it takes for a fair contract." He said the last time employees went on strike in 1988, they were only out for one day, but added, "we will go the distance."

He said the store has been a union shop for more than 50 years and the company made more than $2 billion in profits last year.

Shop steward Dawn Tuozzolo and co-steward Mel Bartovic said, "we're out here for the future people," referring to new hires who would not share in the same benefits as older employees.

"They want to take away time and a-half on Sunday," said Tuozzolo who has worked for Stop & Shop for 23 years.

The workers said management wanted to cap the salary for new full-time employees at $18 per hour, cap vacations at three weeks, and raise employee contributions and deductibles for their healthcare.

"Any raise we get will be eaten by increases for health and welfare," Tuozzolo said, adding "We appreciate the public support."
The Wilton workers are among more than 600 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, which represents workers in much of Connecticut and is headquartered in Westport. Union members voted in early March to strike as contract negotiations with the grocery chain stalled.
“Despite some slight progress being made during contract negotiations, the company is still proposing unreasonable cuts that could impact us all,” the union said on its website Saturday.
The grocery giant employs more than 31,000 associates throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The company operates 92 stores in Connecticut alone.
Clare Dignan contributed to this story.