WALLINGFORD — As Stop & Shop workers continue their strike, Master’s Manna has been cautious about crossing picket lines to collect donations for its food pantry.
”We held off from picking up because we weren’t going to cross the picket line,” said Bill Pursell, treasurer of the Master’s Manna board of directors. The nonprofit food pantry serves hundreds of families in the Meriden-Wallingford area each week.
About 31,000 Stop & Shop employees in three states have been on strike for six days. Customers have also been reluctant to cross the picket lines.
Master’s Manna customarily picks up donated baked goods and produce from Stop & Shop stores in Wallingford and North Haven. On Wednesday, the pantry was told by the Connecticut Food Bank that it was OK to resume pickups after clearing it with store management and the United Food and Commercial Workers locals.
“Since our store associates went on strike last week, we have been working with the Connecticut Food Bank, as well as local food pantries, to donate as much food as possible to our neighbors in need,” a Stop & Shop spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “In Connecticut, we have donated excess food such as meat, dairy, and produce. Stop & Shop is committed to resolving our labor negotiations as quickly as possible so that our employees can return to their jobs and we can get back to serving our communities.”
But word didn’t get to the local stores in time and nothing was set aside for pickup in Wallingford on Wednesday, a store manager confirmed. In North Haven, store managers helped pantry volunteers when they arrived to gather bananas and bakery products.
“They were thrilled to help out,” said Sue Field of Masters Manna. “So tomorrow, we’ll have bakery and produce. They believe the same way we do, that food isn’t trash.”
The workers are protesting higher health care premiums and reductions to pensions, most of which would impact future workers. Stop & Shop has said eligible workers aren’t losing pension or health care benefits and are getting a pay hike.
UFCW Local 919 issued a letter to workers Tuesday disputing Stop & Shop’s claims. It also said the grocery chain refuses to provide financial information to verify that cuts are necessary.
“Their proposal increases many full and part-time workers’ weekly health care premiums by hundreds of dollars; phases out time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays for current part-time workers; and eliminates premium pay entirely for new part-time workers. Their proposal reduces monthly pension benefits for many workers, including many part-time workers, who would see their monthly pension benefits reduced by up to 72 percent.”
Negotiations between Stop & Shop and the leaders of five workers unions and federal mediators continue in Providence, Rhode Island.