Biden, other pols rally around Stop & Shop workers

Former VP calls what company is doing ‘morally wrong’

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN got national media attention on Thursday when he spoke at a rally of striking Stop & Shop workers, saying, “This is wrong. This is morally wrong, what’s going on around this country. And I have had enough of it. I’m sick of it, and so are you.”

While many showed up itching to see “Uncle Joe,” who is considering a White House bid in 2020, the more important weight of a ticking time bomb is resting over those workers’ heads.

May 1 is the day company-sponsored health insurance will lapse.

Paul Batista, a butcher at the Stop & Shop in Allston, told WBUR about that and more this week, including that the workers, represented by union United Food & Commercial Workers, won’t make up for lost wages until the strike enters its second week, when they will begin to be compensated through a strike fund.

Batista was one of the thousands of workers who walked off the job at over 240 stores eight days ago, going on strike after negotiations over health care costs, wages, and benefits fell through. While the two sides began meeting again last weekend, the impasse still continues, affecting 31,000 employees.

The health care issue is a sticking point for workers. The proposal that sent workers out the doors from Stop & Shop included a deductible increase from $2,500 to $5,000, and an increase of $2 to $4 on health insurance premiums. Stop & Shop says it is covering 92 percent of health premiums for family coverage and 88 percent for individuals. The current arrangement is 94.3 percent of premiums for families and 91.4 percent for individuals.

Stop & Shop, which is a subsidiary of Dutch conglomerate Ahold Delhaize, says that it offered employees a pay increase, which workers say is 50 cents an hour.

Biden questioned how Ahold Delhaize could have reported more than $2 billion in profits in 2018 and received a $220 million US tax cut in 2017 — and still propose benefit cuts, according to MassLive.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose family once ran the Stop & Shop chain, joined Biden in providing support to the strikers. “My grandfather, Mr. Sidney in heaven — and there were people here today who knew Mr. Sidney — would be wanting to kill himself if he saw this,” she said.

With growing support from customers, many of whom have avoided crossing picket lines, striking workers seem emboldened to continue waiting. But that patience will likely be tested once health care coverage runs out.