News & Events

Shaw’s workers spread out protest

Union takes picket to local grocery stores

By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff  |  March 9, 2010

Shaw’s Supermarket workers yesterday fanned out their protest to local grocery stores, a day after employees at a Methuen distribution center went on strike following the rejection of a final contract offer.

The Methuen warehouse, with about 310 workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 791, distributes most of the perishable foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat, to 194 Shaw’s and Star Market supermarkets across New England. Shaw’s would not disclose details of the company’s contingency plans but said it continues to serve customers.

“We are disappointed that the Methuen Distribution Center associates represented by Local 791 have voted down a fair and reasonable contract offer,’’ said Judy Chong, a Shaw’s spokeswoman. “Our last, best, and final offer protected good jobs, offered wage increases, provided access to affordable health care with minimal increases, and maintained the overall benefit levels and security of their pension.’’

Peter Derouen, a spokesman for Local 791, said more than 250 union members picketed yesterday at the distribution center and at supermarkets in New Hampshire and Greater Boston, including Boston, Somerville, Saugus, and Dedham. Workers overwhelmingly voted to reject the final contract offer, which would have increased health insurance premiums by more than 10 percent and resulted in a net loss of income, according to Derouen. The vote was 228 to 8.

“We don’t want to be on strike,’’ Derouen said. “But we’ll do this as long as it takes to get a fair agreement.’’

The company had negotiated with the union for about three months. Jimmy Porter, who has worked at the Methuen distribution center since 1992, said employees voted down the company’s proposal because it would have resulted in the loss of $28 per week, or about $1,456 annually, for people on family health insurance plans.

“My hope is that the company sees how serious the employees of the warehouse are and that they want to sit down and resolve this dispute,’’ said Porter, the union’s vice president and chief steward.

Chong said the union was told that the company’s last offer would come off the table if it was rejected and be replaced with an offer that “removed some provisions that were less favorable to the company.’’

Union officials said the alternative proposal includes provisions that would require workers to pay 100 percent of the health care cost increase this year and allow the chain to bring in third-party, nonunion workers into the warehouse.

“Shaw’s hopes that the union will reconsider and accept the alternative offer that is now on the table,’’ Chong said.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at