On July 4th, Stop and Shop notified workers they would be rolling back a 10-percent pay increase. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) had negotiated the hazard pay bump and additional sick time given the dangers of COVID-19. With coronavirus cases increasing across the country, the danger is far from over.
In the guest article below, Stop & Shop worker Sally C. talks about the hazards grocery store workers still face during COVID-19 and how workers can stop the cuts.
In the simplest words possible, the last few months of everyone’s lives have been utter and complete chaos. Folks lost jobs, family members, friends, and income necessary to sustain minimal livelihood, while others were called to action and suddenly deemed as society’s “essential workers”. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from the ideal summer experience, but research has proven that this new way of living is something we will all need to adapt to. Day by day, human life continues to adjust to the world’s infectious environment as people create a new sense of normalcy. It is scary, nerve-wracking, and unusual. But it is life.
I am a part-time Assistant Customer Service Department Head (ACSDH) at Stop and Shop. This position requires an individual to run the front-end department alongside our department manager, arguably the busiest and most fast-paced section of a grocery store. ACSDH’s are critical to the success of providing the best customer service experience for our clientele. Therefore, there is not a second of the day where I am not interacting with a customer or associate. I take the utmost pride in my job and I am very aware that every day when I step through the doors, I work my hardest to make my associates, bosses, managers, and customers happy. I truly enjoy what I do, which explains why I have been a loyal employee since April 2016. I worked my way up to my current position when I started as a cashier at the age of 16. I did not imagine I would come to love my coworkers and regular customers as much as I do 5 years later. They are what make going to work every day worth it.
Being an associate of Stop and Shop also means that I am represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. In particular, my store is a part of UFCW Local 1445. This is an incredible (and rare) asset to have as a part time employee. Being unionized is one of many things that drew me to applying to Stop and Shop.
I am currently going into my senior year in college at Plymouth State University with hopes of continuing my education to be a licensed clinical social worker for the state of Massachusetts. Stop and Shop has been vital to allow me to afford college and the myriad costs that accompany going away to school three hours from home. In order to stay on the company payroll, one is required to work at least one shift every three weeks. That means that during the school year, I drive home after classes to work one weekend every three weeks in order to stay a part of the company. This has been extremely hard for me over the last three years. It is not necessarily ideal to leave your friends every third weekend or drive 240 miles alone to make a paycheck that is just enough to pay for your gas and maybe some groceries. Nevertheless, I have always been happy to make the trip home to work because I get to work alongside some of my favorite people. It has been extremely challenging, but certainly worth it.
How to Stand in Solidarity with Stop & Shop Workers
When COVID-19 struck the nation, I packed up my entire life at PSU and went home. The next morning, I was working at Stop and Shop. Without a doubt, I knew it was my job and responsibility to help my coworkers during such a chaotic time. Things were weird; the environment was panic stricken and stressful. Nobody knew what was going to happen. Fast forward to today: masks are mandated, plexiglass separates employees from customers, the doors are armed with associates counting every person that goes in and every person that goes out, arrows mark the floors in which customers are able to enter the aisles, and tensions are higher than ever. Simply put, we are burnt out. I am happy that I have worked long days and even longer weeks, but I have to be honest — it is very hard. Since the pandemic started, I have worked full-time hours every week, despite being a part-time employee. The increase in demand has required an increase in my attendance. Many associates describe the last 4 months as feeling like we are running on autopilot.
Customers are frustrated, and oftentimes, the frustrations are taken out on associates. Associates are frustrated, and oftentimes, the frustrations are taken out on each other. Management is working diligently to make things as normal as possible, but the world will not allow that. They are frustrated too. It is impossible to social distance while working in a grocery store. It is not possible for associates to keep a 6-foot distance from each other. In fact, the distance between a cashier and a bagger is only 5.5 feet. Customers struggle with standing behind plexiglass. There are even customers that refuse to wear masks, regardless of the mandatory state legislation. However, Stop and Shop employees are told that we must continue to serve all of our customers to the highest standard, even if they are standing in front of us, unmasked. It is frustrating when blatant disrespect stares you in the face and expects top notch customer service. Nevertheless, the company instructs all associates to stand directly in harms’ way with a smile on our face when situations like this happen. All in all, going into a grocery store during a pandemic is an entirely new environment. But, working in one is poses further challenges.
Stop and Shop decided to give all associates a 10% wage increase as “emergency pay” to recognize our tireless dedication during a time of global crisis. That was until July 4, when the company made the choice to discontinue this. In the nicest way possible, Stop and Shop really screwed this one up. Considering that the United States is in a global state of emergency, it would only make sense that “emergency pay” continues. In addition, the company released that they have received a 34% increase in sales during the pandemic.
That being said, my question is “why?” When a company is clearly not pinching pennies, why take away the very little that was given to associates that makes us feel important? Stop and Shop is always one of the first companies to refer to their associates as “essential” or “heroes”. It is now clear to me that all of that is for show. Rooted deep in their practices, Stop and Shop sees every associate as a number. Each person is just another body that is feeding money into their pockets. So, as managers get large bonuses, all other associates get a 10% increase taken away. We are now working for the same wage we would during a normal time in our world. To me, that is extremely unethical and speaks volumes about the people behind the corporate positions.
I truthfully believe that Stop and Shop is getting rid of the hazard pay now because they think that they can get away with it. Their associates have jobs, have not had to go through the nightmares of the unemployment application process, and have a guaranteed position. My assumption is that the company did not think we would notice. As life begins to return to a little bit more normal, the company believes that the risk is gone. In fact, cases are on the rise, as we have seen in states across the country. The company is aware that every interaction is a danger. However, corporate greed has been prioritized over the well-being of the associates that are the reason they are in the highest profits in history. Stop and Shop made an ignorant and selfish decision, and associates are beginning to react accordingly to the maltreatment we are facing as a result.
To reverse the decision, Stop and Shop employees need to unite. We need to keep talking, keep fighting, and spread the word. It is important that our customers are aware of what is happening. It is just as important that we use social media as a powerful tool to spread our message and ignite the anger and passion in others that we are all feeling. Words are the most powerful instrument in a fight against one of the largest corporations in New England. We must use our voices and our privilege of being a unionized company to combat these injustices. We must also speak for those whose voices cannot be heard. I know that the company is hearing us, they are just choosing to ignore us. We will continue until we no longer can be ignored.
As an upcoming social worker, I have experienced many situations that require me to advocate for fellow students or peers. The most valuable lesson I have learned in college is that real change happens in numbers. Therefore, we must continue to confront the company as one. Perhaps that is the silver lining in this whole situation. We are able to connect with associates across all districts and provide support for each other. My story is just mine, but I am confident that there are hundreds of Stop and Shop employees that share similar involvement in the company and therefore, similar aggravations. We must persevere and persist because what is happening needs to change. I am hopeful that one day, we will be truly essential, not just in headlines.
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