Employees of Waldbaum’s supermarkets walked off their jobs for a number of hours at stores on the East End and elsewhere last Thursday after negotiations broke down between the workers union and the grocery store’s parent company, A&P. They were back to work as usual on Friday.
“They want to take away retirement benefits,” said Barbara Ferraiuolo, an employee of the Waldbaum’s in Southampton Village who lives in North Sea. The company is also refusing to grant raises or give new employees health benefits, she added.
“Right now we have MagnaCare, but they want us to pay into it,” said Sophie Schmidt, the union steward at the Waldbaum’s on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach. “We’ve never had to pay into it before.”
Workers also walked off the job in East Hampton.
In Southampton, workers walked out shortly after 11 a.m. before returning to work about an hour later. Later in the day, at about 3 p.m., the strike resumed in the village after store managers told the union representative he had to leave or face arrest, said Robert Klick, who said he had been an employee of Waldbaum’s since 1990.
“Under union contract, I’m allowed to be here,” said Peter Iacono, the Local 342 East End representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Mr. Iacono said employees tried to go back to work at another store and weren’t allowed to enter. He collected the “on strike” signs from the workers and distributed “locked out” signs to replace them.
During the earlier walkout, Waldbaum’s employees crowded the sidewalk along Jagger and Windmill lanes waving at cars while village police officers stood in front of the store’s entrance.
But the second time around, with a light rain falling, workers huddled under a few umbrellas, and police officers kept watch from their patrol cars.
The local actions are part of a larger strike that included several Long Island and New York City area grocery stores.
Employees have been working without a contract since October 31, according to Wendy Kmetz, a bookkeeper at the Westhampton Beach store.
“I won’t buy from them,” a driver exclaimed after pulling into the Southampton Waldbaum’s parking lot and noticing the strike. He drove away, as did other some other shoppers who said they wanted to support the strikers. Many others continued to shop as usual.
“I wish I could go shop someplace else, but there’s no place else to go,” one shopper told the strikers before entering the store.
Inside, managers were left to run the checkouts and directed customers to the self-checkout lanes. The deli, bakery and seafood counters were left unattended.
The employees were back to work on Friday morning. Local 342 announced on its website that day that a tentative agreement was reached, and that union members were to vote yesterday, Wednesday, April 2, on whether or not to ratify it. The union reported that the new contract includes improved wages, a pension supplement and an annuity.