Ecumenical Leaders Organize Support of Striking Workers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts

Rev. Steven D. Martin
National Council of Churches

Image Credit: UFCW Local 328

WASHINGTON: In one of the shortest and most effective strikes in recent years, Stop & Shop stores in New England reopened with a new labor agreement after two months of deadlocked negotiations. During the ten days of the strike, faith leaders joined in urging members of their churches and synagogues to refuse to cross the picket lines, saying it was “unjust” and “not kosher” to do so.

The strike took place after months of deadlocked negotiations when the latest contract expired on February 23. 31,000 workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, went on strike at the nearly 250 Stop & Shop stores across New England.

“The culture of Rhode Island is not to cross the picket line,” Rev. Donnie Anderson, head of the Rhode Island Council of Churches, remarked.  “The things they were asking for made sense. The really were trying to hold on to what they had. Many of these people work for insignificant wages.”

“The Massachusetts Council of Churches has a history of organizing against child labor in the Lowell textile mills. Those who are dependent upon fragile employment are more easily exploitable,” said Rev. Laura Everett, the organization’s director.

The union connected to the area churches and councils via the National Council of Churches, asking help in providing food for strikers who were affected. The Rhode Island Council of Churches and the Massachusetts Council of Churches were among the faith groups contacted to help organize these centers for workers to obtain food for their families. The strike ended soon after this request was made.  

The effort to provide food for workers coincided with busy Holy Week events and preparations for Passover.

“I knew of multiple churches where their Easter flowers were ordered through Stop & Shop,” remarked Everett.  “Those churches had to decide whether to go without flowers for Easter Sunday or to scramble to make other preparations.”

Negotiators observed that the grocery chain’s holding company, Ahold Delhaize, reported profits of over $2 billion last year. “The company is doing fine, thank you very much! They’re not on the brink of bankruptcy here,” Rev. Anderson observed.

The strike was settled after ten days on April 21, Easter Sunday.

“The National Council of Churches and its New England partners played a tremendous role in bringing the strike to an end. We heard plenty of stories from the workers that faith leaders stood on the line with them, gave words of engagement, bought them food and drinks, invited them to church food banks and spoke at rallies,” said Robin Williams of UFCW.  “The Good Friday and Easter Sunday messages were greatly appreciated, and press articles were read among workers throughout this country.”

As the strike came to a close, the United Food and Commercial Workers urged consumers to return to Stop & Shop.  “We are asking customers, friends, leaders and businesses to please SHOP at STOP & SHOP! And, thank the company for listening to their workers and customers and finally agreeing to doing the right thing.”

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