Stop and Shop protesters continue strike with mix of support, backlash

Stop and Shop employees in Ridgefield continued to protest outside of the grocery store on Danbury Road Friday, April 11. — Stephen Coulter / Hearst Connecticut Media
Stop and Shop employees in Ridgefield continued to protest outside of the grocery store on Danbury Road Friday, April 11. — Stephen Coulter / Hearst Connecticut Media

Stop and Shop employees in Ridgefield remain on strike heading into the weekend, and there's no sign of a resolution coming any time soon.

"We haven't heard anything from our union rep so our plan is to be here striking every day until there's a new contract — a fair deal — in place," said Luke Cropsey, who works in the store's dairy department.

Cropsey, a Ridgefielder, was one of about 30 workers who continued their protest against unfair labor practices in front of the grocery store on Danbury Road Friday, April 12.

The group successfully turned away a few shoppers who were heading into the store to buy groceries around noon. Cropsey took that as an encouraging sign.

"People have turned around in their cars, they've beeped their horns in a show of support, and we've even had a couple who had gotten out of their cars and were about to come in but turned away after they heard what was happening," he said. "We've been able to talk people out of coming into the store."

Several employees at the scene wanted to thank the community for their support. Steve's Bagels dropped off bagels and coffee Friday morning to the strikers. Other businesses and individuals have stopped by with coffee and food.

"Someone even dropped off a pizza yesterday," Cropsey said.

"The support has raised our spirits a decent about," he added.

Despite rains early Friday, the grocery store workers showed up around 8 a.m. to hold up signs. With the rain dissipating and the temperatures rising around noon, the protesters seemed prepared to carry on their strike for the rest of the day — and into the weekend.

"The legs are feeling OK," Crospey said. "I'm sure they'll get tired eventually but we can sit down whenever. We're in support of each other and that's what's giving us all energy to keep going."

Against the strike

While most people entering the store to shop have ignored the protesters going on outside, Crospey said several people have yelled out of their cars and called the employees ignorant.

"Some people have been very rude to us," he said. "They don't understand why we're protesting. ... We would prefer it if people didn't say that we were ignorant and should get a degree in economics."

The Ridgefield resident explained that the group was striking because Stop and Shop was threatening to reduce health benefits as well as eliminate pay increases for full-time employees.

"They raised the minimum deductible for full-time people," Crospey said, "and they offered a flat $500 bonus to employees instead of a raise. They want to keep us at the same pay rate and slash our benefits .... a majority of us are only making $12 or $13 an hour. There's a handful of us that are making even less than that."

In addition, the workers said the company isn't offering raises to any new hires and trying to strip away paying time-and-a-half to employees who work Sundays and holidays.

There are also threats to eliminate all cashiers and replace them with self-service stations, as well as reduce sick days.

"The Board of Directors of Ahold, the company that owns Stop and Shop, gave themselves a raise last year — they pocketed $2 billion," Crospey said. "And meanwhile they want to reduce our workforce in half .... they spent a lot of money on technology and robots, self-scanning stations to make that happen."

Inside the store

Stop and Shop had more workers inside the store Friday than it did at 3:15 p.m. Thursday when the store reopened and only three managers were on site to help customers who wanted to shop.

"They brought in scabs who are working for $20 a day," Crospey said, "and they'll be fired after the strike ends."

Besides scabs, the protesters said that they believed Stop and Shop's corporate office sent out more managers to help alleviate the strain felt from the strike outside.

There were a few workers manually operating cash registers Friday, but a majority of shoppers used the self-service stations on the north end of the store.

"We've had a few people tell us there's nowhere else they can go to shop, and that's why they're not supporting us," Crospey said. "There's plenty of places — there's Stews, there's Caraluzzi's, there's at least eight grocery stores in the nearby area. Plenty of other places people can shop."