News & Events

Settlement ends strike by Shaw’s workers

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff  |  July 9, 2010

Hundreds of warehouse workers at Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. who walked off their jobs about four months ago reached a deal yesterday with the supermarket chain over pay and health benefits.

Workers at the Shaw’s Methuen distribution center have ratified a four-year contract that effectively ends the strike that began March 8, a day after workers rejected a contract that they said would have resulted in a loss of $28 per week, or about $1,456 annually for people enrolled in family health insurance plans.

Shaw’s spokeswoman Rebekah Fawcett said the agreement includes wage increases and higher contributions to the employee health plan from workers and the company, but she said she could not release the new figures.

The grocer had said the four-year offer the union rejected would have increased company health contributions by up to 19 percent and increased wages by 4.2 percent for all Methuen workers, who make an average of $19.06 an hour.

“The economics of the offer were comparable to the offer we had on the table at the beginning of the strike, and we believe this is a fair deal because it balanced our business needs with those of our associates and our customers,’’ Fawcett said. “We agreed with the union that this was the right path forward.’’

The workers’ union, the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 791, did not immediately return calls seeking comment late last night.

More than 300 Methuen workers started picketing Shaw’s stores in March. Shortly afterward, the grocer, which is owned by Minnesota-based Supervalu Inc. and has about 176 stores in New England, cut off the workers’ health benefits and hired replacements in the warehouse.

As the stalemate continued, the workers gradually escalated their efforts. In March, other unions, including the Teamsters and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, joined the workers in a mobile picket, moving from store to store. The union also organized a five-day, 60-mile march in May from the distribution center in Methuen to the Shaw’s at Prudential Center.

Support for the workers also rose. In May, Senator John F. Kerry, Representative Michael Capuano, and nine other Massachusetts congressional leaders sent a letter to the chief executive of Shaw’s and Supervalu, urging them to go back to the bargaining table. And the UFCW International Union called for a national boycott of Supervalu.

But the strike took a financial toll on many workers. Some took extra jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the number of striking workers dwindled from the original 306 to about 240 after some workers crossed the picket line and some retired.

Fawcett said the company is working with the union to determine when the employees who went on strike would return to work. She said they workers will return in a “phased approach’’ that will probably begin in the next couple of weeks. She also said replacement workers would be let go in the same manner.

Travis Andersen can be reached at