EAST HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -- After months of contract negotiations, Stop & Shop workers walked off the job on Thursday.

On Thursday afternoon, 31,000 workers from five unions in CT, Massachusetts and Rhode Island walked off the job due to failed contract agreements.

The negotiations surround wages and benefits for workers from five unions.

Without a contract since late February, last month union members gave their negotiating team the authorization to call a strike.

Workers were seen picketing at Stop & Shop locations across the state starting at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Some locations even had signs on their doors saying they were temporarily closed on Thursday:

  • Rocky Hill
  • East Hartford
  • Meriden
  • Cromwell
  • Hamden (Open 8am-8pm)
  • Old Saybrook
  • Waterbury (Reidville Drive)
  • Colchester (Open 8am-8pm)

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People's Banks, which have locations inside Stop & Shops, said it "will continue to operate as usual for the duration of this strike, to the extent possible. Customer and employee safety is our first priority and we will continue to provide service with as minimal disruption as possible. We hope there is a quick and amicable resolution to the matter for both parties involved."

Since last week, Stop and Shop and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, representing more than 31,000 workers in CT, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, had been negotiating with a federal moderator.

See photos of the walk-outs here.

Recently, the union called Stop and Shop’s latest offer an insult and completely unacceptable.

Stop and Shop says its employees are some of the highest paid food retailers in the region and the changes are needed to compete with other supermarkets that are mostly nonunion.

On Thursday, workers said one big problem are the healthcare benefits. They claim they're being reduced, and with the rising costs of healthcare, many said they couldn't afford getting sick.

"I'd like to see a fair healthcare package. It doesn't sound bad to a lot of people but what my understanding would quadruple what my deductible is. I would literally need a part time if I had large medical bills to cover that," said Stop and Shop worker Judi Geary.

"This is the first time in 17 years that they haven't been able to come to an agreement that was fair to us, so we have to do what we have to do," said Kim Ali, a Stop and Shop worker.

The last strike happened in the 1980s.

A spokesperson for Stop and Shop said "We are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores."

They also released a statement saying, "We are absolutely not withholding paychecks from last week's hours worked. Checks can be mailed at a worker's request or picked up when a store is open." 

The company believes they've proposed good and reasonable offers to their union locals, saying they've offered:

  • Across-the-board pay increases for all associates – no one’s pay would be cut;
  • Continued “Gold Level” health care benefits for eligible associates – at a fraction of what employees at other retail companies pay and with no changes to already unusually low deductibles; and
  • Increased company contributions to the UFCW’s defined benefit pension fund for current full- and vested part-time associates – a rare benefit in the New England food retail industry.

The company went on to say "Additionally, this morning the company made several suggestions to the federal mediators to encourage further bargaining. The mediators gave those proposals to the Locals late in the morning. The Locals provided no counter proposals to the mediators and simply stated they were proceeding with their plans. In contrast to the company’s proposal which is better than most recent UFCW contract settlements and responsive to heavy non-union competition, the unions proposed a contract that would increase the company’s costs. This would make our company less competitive in the mostly non-union New England food retail marketplace. Stop & Shop remains ready and available to meet with the union locals at any time. We are committed to good faith bargaining and hope to reach new contracts as quickly as possible that both recognize and reward the great work of our associates and enable Stop & Shop to compete effectively in the rapidly changing New England grocery market."

In a statement on Thursday, the union said "Our 31,000 members who work at Stop & Shop work incredibly hard to provide the great customer service that has made the company billions of dollars in profit and the top grocery store in New England. Instead of a contract that recognizes the value and hard work that our members provide every day, Stop & Shop has only proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health care benefits and take home pay, while replacing real customer service with more serve-yourself checkout machines. The hard-working men and women at over 240 stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are standing together to tell Stop & Shop that it is time to do the right thing. The men and women who make Stop & Shop a success have earned and deserve affordable health care, a good wage, and the ability to retire with dignity. They have earned and deserve a good job that allows them to do what they do best: provide the very best customer service for New England communities. What Stop & Shop workers don’t deserve, and what no one who works hard in New England deserves, are unreasonable cuts while the company they work so hard for makes billions of dollars in profits. That is wrong and it sends a terrible message to every customer who truly depends on our Stop & Shop cashiers, stockers, bakers, deli clerk, and butchers."

Copyright 2019 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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