Grocery Warehouse Strikers Speak Out

More than 300 workers at a Shaw’s grocery warehouse in Methuen, Massachusetts, near Boston, have been on strike since March 7. There is a Shaw's store in Keene. “The company tried to make us pay more for health care,” said Evin Ramirez. He has worked for more than 11 years inside the giant, windowless warehouse, where temperatures range between 25 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

“People’s backs get hurt, some workers take aspirin every day for arthritis in their hands,” Ramirez told MassLaborNews.com as he stood with a dozen of his co-workers on the picket line outside the warehouse in Methuen on April 27. The vast majority of the workers have honored the picket line.

Shaw’s demanded the workers accept 1 percent “raises” – a pay cut, when inflation is taken into account -- and agree to let the company give some of the union workers’ jobs to workers from temp agencies.

Sandy Oxford, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers union www.ufcw.org said a Shaw’s official called the union on April 27 and asked to resume negotiations on April 28. “We agreed to meet with them,” she said. “It’s good news.”

Union members and community supporters have been standing outside Shaw’s stores in Boston and nearby cities handing out leaflets and asking people to boycott Shaw’s until the workers vote to approve a new contract. Often, there is a Hannaford or other supermarket nearby the Shaw’s store, so shoppers are happy to honor the workers’ request.

Michael Beckett has worked in the warehouse for 12 years. “We’re asking other unions, and the public, to donate to our strike fund so we can keep paying the strikers and they can afford to pay their bills,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to shop at Shaw’s supermarkets until we have a fair contract.”

Shaw’s is owned by Supervalu Corporation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The CEO of Supervalu was paid $7.4 million last year.

Shifts at the Methuen warehouse run from 4 a.m. until 2 p.m.; from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.; and from 4 p.m. until midnight.

“They make you work very fast – that’s why it is dangerous,” Evin Ramirez said. “If you slow down you can be fired.”

On a typical shift, a worker will hand-load hundreds of bags of onions, potatoes, and other produce onto forklift pallets. Each bags weighs between 25 and 30 pounds. In the meat section of the warehouse, where the temperature is below freezing, workers are required to lift boxes of meat weighing up to 90 pounds. The meat boxes are not designed to be easy to lift – they are about four feet long, several workers said. “We are not complaining, we want to go back to work and work hard, but only under a fair contract,” Michael Beckett said.

Hector Medina is a nine-year veteran of the Methuen warehouse. Speaking in Spanish, he said, “Some days standing out here I feel weak – when it is rainy and cold. Other days, I feel truly inspired.”

The Shaw’s workers are asking the public to join them at a rally in Boston on May 1. More information is at www.ufcw791.org and www.massjwj.net

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This article appeared first at www.MassLaborNews.com

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