UPDATED 4:50 p.m. Thursday — Stop and Shop on Danbury Road in Ridgefield closed for two hours when a group of employees walked out before starting their afternoon shift Thursday, April 11.
The store, which closed at 1 p.m, reopened its doors at 3:15 p.m. with three dozen or so employees continuing to protest what they say are unfair labor practices by the grocery store chain. With no employees inside the store, customers can still shop and check out at electronic-scanning stations inside the store.
One employee on the scene told The Press they intend to stay in front of the store all night.
“All of us are standing outside until the completion of our shifts at 10 p.m.,” said an employee Brandon, who works in the store’s floral department. “We all plan to come back at 7 a.m. and do it again if we’re still without a new contract in the morning. I hope it doesn’t go on that long.”
Brandon said that overnight workers were expected to arrive at 10 p.m. and stand outside in protest overnight during what would be their shifts.
Union Representative Jeff Horvath, who represents employees in the Local 371 United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told The Press the company needs to start “negotiating in good faith with its employees.”
“There’s been no contact with corporate, at least not that I’ve heard,” Horvath said.
Horvath said he did not know how long the strike would last.
“It started at one this afternoon and it’s only 4:30,” he said. “It’s a very young strike, I can’t put a timeline on it.”
In total, the Ridgefield grocery store employees 180 to 190 people — most of whom commute into Ridgefield.
“I would estimate that it takes 75% of us 45 minutes to an hour to commute into work,” Brandon said.
“I want the business to be up and running,” he added. “I want to go in and go to work … once we get a fair contract we’ll be back at work.”
When asked what a fair deal would like for employees, Brandon said he didn’t want Stop and Shop to touch the employees health benefits.
“That will affect all of us full-time employees,” he said.
Negotiations for a new contact have been going on since last year.
Brandon said another reason he was striking was the threat that time-and-half pay for Sunday shifts would be stripped.
“It’s the store’s busiest day of the week by far and they’re trying to take that away from us,” he said.
Inside the store
Despite the three dozen or so employees protesting with signs that read “On Strike: Unfair Labor Practices” and “Members of Local 371 UFCW-AFL-CIO Strike Against Stop and Shop,” customers who entered the store after 3:15 p.m. said they did not know what was going on.
“I’m not sure why they’re striking but I’m sure they have a reason,” said one female shopper who wished to remain anonymous.
“It won’t change the fact that people still need to buy groceries,” added a male customer who also wished to remain anonymous.
Brandon, who has been working for Stop and Shop for 10 years, said that the strikers were told to stand 10 feet away from the business’ sliding entry doors.
“We can’t stand in front and block people from going in,” he said. “That’s why we’re here standing more towards the middle.”
Shoppers inside the store were being assisted by several managers who are non union employees.
“The bank is open and the pharmacy is open,” Brandon said.
The pharmacist is not affiliated with the union and the bank is operated independent of Stop and Shop.
“People can’t get their deli meat sliced, they can’t get their flowers wrapped and they can’t get their baked goods,” Brandon said. “One woman came in and she had ordered a birthday cake for her son. She couldn’t buy it from here because we were closed.”
Even though customers continued to shop at Stop and Shop Thursday afternoon, Brandon believed the town was behind the employees.
“Most customers support us, we’ve been getting a lot of people honking at us and giving us the thumbs up — encouraging us to keep going,” he said. “There are obviously a few dozen that only care about it getting their groceries….
“They’re supporting Stop and Shop, they’re not supporting us.”
Another protester on the scene who wished to remain anonymous said he wasn’t afraid of the repercussions of the protest.
“We all know it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Several employees protesting said any other statements would have to go through Stop and Shop’s corporate office.
“We have a lot of people here who’ve been with the company for a while stocking the shelves,” Brandon said. “We have people here who have been working for the company for 33 years, 29 years. … These are the people that make the business operate. They’ve been making it operational for years and nobody has taken notice.”