200-plus Hannaford distribution center workers launch 24-hour strike

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SOUTH PORTLAND — More than 200 union members who work at the Hannaford distribution center in South Portland launched a 24-hour strike on Wednesday morning after previously rejecting a contract proposal.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 say they are striking in order to secure a fair contract that improves their lives and protects future employees.

At least 150 workers picketed the main gates of Hannaford’s South Portland warehouse Wednesday in a one-day strike aimed at bringing management back to the negotiating table. The union workers chanted, marched and tried to convince delivery drivers not to cross the picket line.

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“They are showing the company they will not be bullied – it is really about respect,” said Tom Brown, the union’s servicing director.

Delhaize America Distributors LLC, which operates the warehouse, “didn’t believe these people would go on strike,” Brown said. The company is a subsidiary of Hannaford’s Dutch parent company, Ahold Delhaize.

The union members said they plan to go back to work Thursday, but Brown said that could change.

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“If they don’t come to the table, it could go on longer,” he said.

The previous three-year contract between United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 and the company that handles distribution for the Hannaford supermarket stores in Maine expired at the end of the day Friday. Union members voted overwhelmingly Saturday to authorize a strike, although a spokeswoman for the distribution company said Monday evening that the two groups plan to meet early next week.

Delhaize America Distribution said Tuesday that it had been assured there would not be a strike before the mediation session, which is scheduled for Monday.

In an email Wednesday morning, Delhaize spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said the company was “disappointed” that the union decided to strike after agreeing to mediate.

“Delhaize America Distribution intends to fully serve its customers and does not anticipate that UFCW Local 1445 actions will have a significant impact to its ability to serve its customers,” Phillips-Brown said.

Hannaford is owned by the international food retailer Ahold Delhaize USA, but the South Portland distribution center is operated by Delhaize America Distribution LLC, a subsidiary of the parent company.

The cost-neutral contract proposed by the company would have cut starting wages for new workers by $4 an hour from $20 to $16, and it did not address soaring health care costs, union members said.

Larry Knight, a sorter at the warehouse for 31 years, said workers have had benefits such as retirement plans cut in previous contracts.

“We have made a lot of concessions in the last couple contracts because the economy wasn’t going well,” Knight said.

Now, parent company Ahold Delhaize is posting record profits and benefiting from a massive corporate tax cut, he said.

“Trickle down economics has to trickle down a little bit,” Knight said.

Rock and roll from artists such as Metallica, Rage Against the Machine and Bruce Springsteen blared from portable speakers set up near the warehouse entrance Wednesday morning. Picketing workers cheered and whistled as cars passed by, and at least one delivery truck driver, also a UFCW 1445 member, turned around. Others honked their horns or raised a clenched fist in solidarity with the strikers.

South Portland police were called multiple times to clear people from the street in front of the distribution center, said police Lt. Todd Bernard.

The police were not on a paid detail, so they could be called away on another call, he said.

This story will be updated.

Staff writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

Keith Marcotte, a 20-year Hannaford employee and union steward, blows a noisemaker outside the grocer’s South Portland distribution center. Marcotte said the planned 24-hour strike is a show of “good faith.” “It shows that we have the mustard to do this. And it shows that we are willing to honor our jobs by working tomorrow,” Marcotte said. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)

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