Unions Turn To NLRB As Stop & Shop Ends COVID-19 Pay

By Danielle Nichole Smith
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Law360 (July 15, 2020, 6:11 PM EDT) -- Fourteen unions representing about 70,000 Stop & Shop workers have said they will file National Labor Relations Board charges accusing the employer of violating federal labor law by discontinuing heightened pandemic pay without negotiations. 

According to a news release Tuesday, the grocery store chain formally ended the additional pay it had been giving workers during the coronavirus pandemic at midnight on July 4 after having walked away from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union locals at the negotiating table.

"It is inexcusable that a company that has made extraordinary profits during the COVID-19 crisis would think of ending the critical pay our members need," the unions said.

The unions argued that the additional pay the workers received during the coronavirus outbreak wasn't "'appreciation' as Stop and Shop suggests" but rather "critical pay to ensure their families were safe amid the crisis we're facing — a crisis that is far from over."

According to the locals, Stop & Shop rejected all of the solutions they offered and unilaterally made the cuts, violating the union members' rights under their respective collective bargaining agreements. The UFCW Local 1500 filed a unilateral change charge against the grocery chain at the NLRB on July 6.

"Calling it 'appreciation pay' and then taking it away does really send a pretty ugly message to your associates and your employees who just put their lives on the line for three and a half months," Robert Newell, the president of the UFCW Local 1500, told Law360 on Wednesday.

Newell added that the union wants to ensure that people continue to recognize grocery and retail workers as "a vital part of their community, not a transient employee that's here today and gone tomorrow."

"These are workers that have been essential, they've always been essential, and it shouldn't have taken a pandemic to get them classified as essential," Newell said.

Together, the 14 locals represent a combined 70,000 workers in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the release said.

A spokesperson for Stop & Shop told Law360 in a statement Wednesday that the company is aware of the charge from Local 1500 but said the union's claims were meritless. 

"The UFCW and its locals have engaged in many discussions with Stop & Shop regarding appreciation pay and the two extensions of the program to date," the statement said. "Local 1500 has acknowledged these discussions and our partnership in extending the program both on their social media pages and in their leaflets."

The spokesperson went on to say that they "deeply appreciate the extraordinary efforts of our associates and have been pleased to offer and extend our appreciation pay program for longer than nearly every other food retailer."

"The purpose of this temporary extra pay was to recognize our associates for their hard work during an unprecedented surge in demand and customer traffic," the spokesperson said. "As states continue to reopen, we are returning to pre-COVID levels of traffic and demand. We are continuing to take significant steps to keep our associates and customers safe and will continue to offer our associates a flexible leave policy and additional paid sick leave."

Unions in other sectors have also taken legal action regarding employers' policies related to the pandemic. The Culinary Workers Union, Local 226 and Bartenders Union, Local 165 sued the Bellagio, Signature and Harrah's in June, alleging the resorts adopted "unreasonable rules and procedures" surrounding COVID-19 that didn't protect workers or their families.

Bellagio LLC and The Signature Condominiums LLC, both subsidiaries of MGM Resorts International, moved to dismiss the case this month, contending that they only learned about the unions' safety concerns in a June 29 news release published the same day a joint bargaining agency for the two unions filed the complaint.

The unions are seeking injunctive relief against the two resorts and Harrah's Las Vegas LLC under the Labor Management Relations Act.

--Additional reporting by Joyce Hanson and Braden Campbell. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from Stop & Shop.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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