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The Boston Globe has a story about how the strike by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) against Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop - now in its sixth day - could be “a last stand for unionized grocery workers, whose stores are under attack by a host of competitors, all looking to grab a piece of the supermarket bounty.”

Burt Flickinger of the Strategic Resource Group puts it this way: “Stop & Shop is the last, best, and final hope for the great Roman empires of unionized food retail chains.”

Here’s how the Globe puts it in context:

“Stop & Shop, one of the last remaining union shops in the industry, is the largest grocery store chain in New England. But the dynamics affecting its fortunes reach around the world; over the last two decades, the company has been buffeted by the forces of consolidation and globalization and by the rise of the Internet … One by one, union powerhouses that used to reign over swaths of the New England grocery industry, including A&P, Pathmark, and Grand Union, fell into disarray. Stop & Shop, which was acquired by Netherlands-based Royal Ahold in 1996, stepped in to scoop up some of the languishing players. But in the process, it acquired their pensions and other benefit plans, some of which are now at issue in the ongoing labor dispute.
Ahold Delhaize, now the fourth-largest supermarket owner in the United States, also owns the Hannaford and Food Lion chains and the Peapod delivery service.”

Flickinger tells the Globe that “the cost of benefits can be difficult to convey to union workers. ‘It really becomes a challenge to communicate to the team members at the stores that while the compensation could be going up 5 to 8 percent,’ other factors, like filling the hole in an unfunded pension plan, providing a robust health insurance package, and accommodating new minimum wage laws, hurt profit margins, he said. Especially when primarily nonunion players like Aldi and Costco can run their payrolls at a fraction of the cost.”

The Globe points out that as Ahold Delhaize has tried to hold the line on some costs while dealing with others that it often cannot control, there is only a growth in competition - from other chains, family-owned independents, non-traditional formats that now are selling food, and, of course, online retailers with completely different economic models.

“It really has become a perfect storm for the unionized grocery stores like Stop & Shop to withstand,” the story concludes.
KC's View:
And, of course, we know how The Perfect Storm ends. (Spoiler alert!) The ship goes down. The crew dies. (Even George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.)

A friend of mine called me yesterday to suggest that when I mentioned that I live in a union household - my wife and daughter are both members of the teachers union - I might be running the risk of alienating MNB readers who see unions as the problem and who then might be see me as consorting with the enemy.

I’m sympathetic to the UFCW in this case, but mostly that’s because I think that organized labor hasn’t yet figured out a way to pivot to a new role in the management-labor construct. Too often, I think, the negotiations and tensions are focused around arrangements that make labor part of the problem, not part of the solution. Now, to be fair, I’m not sure that traditional corporate interests always allow for this … the two sides have been in opposition to each other for so long that it may be hard to find another way.

I must admit that I wonder if, at the beginning of the negotiations between Stop & Shop and the UFCW, the labor folks looked at management and said, “Tell us about your problems, and tell us how you think we can help solve them.” And if management looked at the labor representatives and said, “Tell us about your problems and how you think we can help solve them.”

Do you think that they discussed each other’s problems as opposed to their negotiating positions?

I wonder about this stuff. I wonder if they’ve ever considered what Shakespeare wrote: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”