The union representing 10,000 Stop & Shop workers in Massachusetts voted unanimously to authorize a strike if Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers can't reach a contract agreement with the company.
The contract expired Saturday at midnight, but store employees will continue working while the bargaining continues. Four other UFCW locals in New England, which are negotiating separate contracts with Stop & Shop, postponed strike authorization votes.
Leaders of Local 1445 have not set a timetable for calling a strike. Stop & Shop, owned by the Dutch company Koninklijke Ahold N.V, wants to cut pensions, increase health care costs, and give new employees fewer benefits, according to the union. The wages being offered are also inadequate, the union said.
"We're still far apart on those economic issues," said Jim Carvalho, the spokesman for Local 1445, noting that the company, the largest supermarket chain in New England, is profitable. Stop and Shop has 212 stores in New England.
Stop & Shop says it is offering increased pay and will continue providing generous paid time off, as well as health care benefits with premiums below market averages. The grocer said it is not seeking to cut contributions to the pension plan.
"Stop & Shop has a long history of reaching contracts with the unions that represent our associates, without any disruption to their work or customer service," the company said in a statement.