By Anna Scholz-Carlson
BU News Service
Former Vice President Joe Biden vehemently declared his support for striking Stop & Shop workers in a speech on Thursday, April 19.
Under a threatening gray sky, around 300 gathered in the parking lot of the hulking Dorchester Stop & Shop building for the eighth day of the picket line in front of the store, and to hear Biden and others speak.
Stop & Shop workers from 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have been on strike since April 12, protesting a new contract from Stop & Shop that according to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ union official statement, “proposed drastic and unreasonable cuts to health care benefits and take home pay.” Biden said this was not only a fight for their jobs, but for the nation, and called for change across the United States.
Biden said this was not only a fight for their jobs, but for the nation, and called for change across the United States.
Met by cheers from the crowd Biden said, “This is morally wrong what is going on around this country.”
Mayor Marty Walsh, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, and Treasurer of Massachusetts Deb Goldberg,
While speeches took place on a stage on the back of a semi-truck, other striking workers continued to hold the picket line at the doors to the Stop & Shop. Brandishing signs which read “Stop. Support. Don’t Shop,” and “One job should be enough” among others, they chanted “Who’s store? Our store,” and “If we don’t get it shut it down.”
In the elated atmosphere people cheered as cars driving by honked their horns in support. Semi-trucks pulling in and out of the parking lot were met by even bigger cheers because of truck drivers support of the strike.
Teamsters truck drivers local 25 union President Sean O’Brien also spoke saying, “We will never cross a picket line no matter what it is, and those trucks will not roll until your contract is settled.”
Biden talked about the importance of fair contracts to maintaining community.
“You know my dad used to say ‘Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck.’” said Biden. “It’s about your decency, your place in the community. It’s about how you are treated, it’s about honor. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say ‘honey, it’s going to be OK and mean it.”
Speaking of the importance of the middle class, Biden said, “Let me get something straight for you all: Wall Street bankers and CEOs did not build America. You built America. Middle class people build America.”
Biden said that the nature of how big corporations across the country treat workers has deteriorated.
“It used to be a basic bargain that if you contributed to the benefit of the outfit you worked with you got to share in the benefits. But that doesn’t happen anymore,” said Biden.
Biden repeatedly referred to his father and middle class upbringing and said, “I know you are used to hearing political speeches, and I’m a politician I get it. But this is beyond that guys, this is way beyond that.”
He said that this would not be the end of the fight for the working middle class and that it was important that workers support each other across the country.
“We’ve gotta stand together and if we do, we will take back this country,” said Biden.
Contract negotiations between UFCW unions and Stop & Shop are ongoing. Stop & Shop said in a statement to the Boston Globe on April 11, “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.”
Mary Ellen Donnelly, 61, from Newtonville, Massachusetts, has worked for Stop & Shop on and off her whole life. She recently worked for another company but came back to Stop & Shop and said she wants to work there for the rest of her life.
Standing near the picket line holding a sign for her local 1445 UFCW union, Donnelly said having the support of politicians like Biden was, “Very strong for us. It’s fantastic, feels great.”
Donnelley said she loved the speech Biden gave and said unions were more important than many people realize.
“If you don’t have that, we lose our values of America,” said Donnelley.
Nino Brown, 28, a fifth grade teacher at Boston Public Schools from Dorchester at the rally with friends to support the workers said he was excited to hear the workers speak but didn’t care much for the politicians speeches.
“They should show their support through their actions,” said Brown.
Brown also said the politicians might have other motives in speaking at the event.
“Particularly Biden, I think he is trying to score some points because the presidential elections are coming up,” said Brown.
He said it was more important to see all the unions coming together to support the cause.
“That is very
Rebecca Giglio, 60, from Plympton, Mass. has been a front end supervisor at Stop & Shop for 41 years.
Before Biden spoke, she said him being there was, “amazingly cool and I only hope that by him being here and speaking to everybody, will make this more of a nationwide fight.”
Giglio said she would lose a lot with the proposed Stop & Shop contract. She recounted how earlier in that day, her dentist had performed an unplanned root canal because by the end of the month she won’t have health insurance.
With tears forming in her eyes she said, “I’m here to save the benefits that I’ve worked my entire life for.”
In her eighth day of picketing, Giglio said she was still excited and energized by the cause and the support they had received.
“It’s a fight for you and your children and the way this country is moving towards,” said Giglio.
Giglio said she is willing to stay on strike as long as it takes.
“We are not just fighting for us right now, we are fighting for people like us in this entire country. And this is astronomically huge.”