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Tentative deal reached between Stop & Shop, striking workers

Employees at the Stop & Shop in Medford had a chat before going into work Monday morning.
Employees at the Stop & Shop in Medford had a chat before going into work Monday morning. (Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe)

Stop & Shop and its striking workers reached a tentative agreement Sunday night, bringing an end to a 10-day work stoppage that crippled New England’s largest grocery chain — closing dozens of stores, delaying food from reaching others, and keeping away loyal shoppers in large numbers.

The Stop & Shop workers who were on strike will return to work Monday morning, a union spokesman said Sunday night.

As in most modern-day labor disputes, the standoff was largely over rising health care costs and reductions to pension plans.

The tentative, three-year agreements between Stop & Shop and the five United Food and Commercial Workers union locals representing the workers offers increased pay for all the workers, as well as continued health care coverage and retirement benefits, both sides said.

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The UFCW, in its statement, said the agreement also maintains time-and-a-half pay on Sundays for current members.

“Under this proposed contract, our members will be able to focus on continuing to help customers in our communities enjoy the best shopping experience possible and to keep Stop & Shop the number one grocery store in New England,” the UFCW said.

The agreements are subject to ratification by members of each of the five unions, the company said.

A vote on the tentative deal will take place as soon as possible, the union spokesman said.

“Today is a powerful victory for the 31,000 hardworking men and women of Stop & Shop who courageously stood up to fight for what all New Englanders want — good jobs, affordable health care, a better wage, and to be treated right by the company they made a success,” the union statement said.

Stop & Shop said its workers’ top priority will be restocking its stores so they can “return to taking care of our customers and communities and providing them with the service they deserve,” according to the company’s statement.

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The company said it appreciated “the patience and understanding of our customers during this time, and we look forward to welcoming them back to Stop & Shop.”

Word that a tentative deal had been reached spread quickly Sunday night.

Larry Farnsworth said he expected to be on the job Monday at 7 a.m. at the Roslindale store, where he manages the meat and seafood sections. He learned of the deal from a text message sent by the union.

“I am glad to be going back to work,” he said. “Happy that they finally came up with something.”

Leanne Noonan, who works at the Quincy store, said she wanted to see what the agreement looked like.

“I am really glad if this is going to be over,” she said in a brief telephone interview. “I would like to get back [to work] as soon as possible.”

The strike, which involved 31,000 workers at 240 stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, began suddenly on the afternoon of April 11, minutes after union leaders sent a text telling workers it was time to walk off the job.

The workers had voted to authorize a strike weeks before, and they knew that negotiations were strained, but most of them had no idea a strike was imminent until 15 minutes before it happened. Then, at 1 p.m., they all got up, leaving cheese in the slicer and cupcakes without frosting, and walked out the door.

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One analyst called it the most “effective and devastating” grocery store strike he’d seen in 30 years.

The Quincy-based company, which started with a single store in Somerville in 1914 and grew to more than 400 stores around the Northeast, is owned by the Dutch corporation Ahold Delhaize, the fourth-largest supermarket owner in the United States, behind Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons, according to data from Progressive Grocer.

Average hourly pay of full-time workers is $21.30, according to Stop & Shop, but for the three-quarters of the workers who work part time, the average wage is $12.75 an hour, according to the union.

The strike had a major impact on the Stop & Shop brand. In the first few days of the strike, visits to the grocery chain by regular customers dropped by a whopping 75 percent, compared to the previous weekend, according to an analysis of mobile device data by Skyhook, a location technology and intelligence company in Boston. Dozens of stores were closed completely, according to union estimates.

In the stores that remained open, hours were cut back. Deli, seafood, bakery, and customer service counters were shut down, meat selection was limited, and gas stations were closed. Deliveries to some stores were delayed, with union drivers refusing to cross picket lines and striking workers blocking the paths of trucks. Many shelves, and parking lots, were largely empty.

Grocery industry analysts estimated that Stop & Shop was losing $2 million a day in the week leading up to Easter and Passover, the biggest shopping week of the year so far.

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Before the tentative deal was announced, Marcel Desorcie, 63, was among workers walking the picket line Sunday morning outside of the Stop & Shop at South Bay Center in Dorchester.

He had decided to strike because of the company’s earlier proposed cuts to its pension program, he said. He found the company’s proposal “insulting,” he said.

“This has been my full-time job for almost 20 years now, and they’re all of a sudden, [they’re] saying, ‘You’re not as valuable to us anymore as you used to be,’ ” Desorcie said.

The company is one of the last remaining unionized grocery chains in the industry, and faces increased competition from rivals with lower labor and operating costs.

Public support for unions is at a 15-year high, according to a Gallup poll in August, with 62 percent of Americans voicing support for unions.

The strike drew widespread attention from Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Joe Biden, the former vice president.

The grocery strike follows others in recent months. Schoolteachers in multiple states went on strike over the past year, and 7,700 Marriott workers in eight cities, including Boston, went on strike simultaneously last fall.

Sterling Hawkins, cofounder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, said traditional grocery stores have seen a tide of e-commerce for the past decade but have moved to respond only in the nearly two years since Amazon acquired Whole Foods.

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“The pressures that legacy physical stores have is now through the roof, and they’re responding by trying to cut some of their overhead” and allocating those savings to new tools to compete in the market, Hawkins told the Globe last week. “Hence, the strike.”


Globe correspondents Alejandro Serrano and Sophia Eppolitio contributed to this report. Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.