SOUTH PORTLAND — About 200 union employees at the Hannaford Bros. distribution center on Hemco Road went on strike for a day Wednesday to draw attention to their contract dispute with the supermarket chain.
Workers tried to keep tractor trailer drivers from entering the center by blocking the street and hoisting signs. At one point, a cup of coffee was tossed into a truck driver’s cab.
“We’re all hard workers, we don’t actually want to be here. We want to work,” union member Sean Gallagher said.
According to striking workers and Jim Carvalho, political director for Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, a meeting with company negotiators is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26.
Carvalho said the two main unresolved issues are the rising cost of health care and the company’s decision to reduce starting wages for new employees. The union rejected the company’s final contract proposal Saturday, Feb. 17, and authorized a strike if negotiations do not continue.
Tom Brown, director of services for the union, said the action illustrated the solidarity of the workers. “It’s unbelievable,” he said, adding they have been disrespected by the company’s unwillingness to negotiate.
A statement issued Wednesday afternoon by Christy Phllips-Brown, spokeswoman for Hannaford’s parent company, Delhaize America Distribution, said the company is disappointed with the actions of the union, given the agreement to mediate Monday with the understanding there would be no strike prior to the meeting.
“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,” the statement said.
Lonnie Floyd, who has worked for Hannaford Bros. for 45 years, said he became aware of the decision to strike at 5 a.m. Wednesday when he arrived at work.
“We want a fair contract, an actual raise that isn’t eaten up by rising health care costs,” Floyd said, adding that a proposed two-tier wage system is also a sticking point that makes it difficult for new, younger workers to make a living.
Floyd said during snow storms and other events, consumers expect stores to stay open and food to be on store shelves. He said the distribution center workers are the ones working to ensure that happens.
Floyd said working for the company was good when it was locally owned, but as it has changed ownership, pensions were cut, and wages have remained stagnant.
Carvalho said the company is a successful, foreign-owned business that should treat employees fairly, especially since they have made the South Portland center one of the most successful in the country.
Delhaize America Distribution operates nine distribution facilities in six states and employs more than 8,500 at these facilities, according to the company. Scarborough-based Hannaford operates 181 stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York.
Hannaford’s Belgium-based owner, Delhaize, merged with grocery giant Ahold in 2016 to create one of the largest grocery chains in the United States. Besides Hannaford, Ahold Delhaize operates Stop & Shop, Giant, and Food Lion.
The union has 15,000 members in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Union Workers attempt to block trucks from entering the Hannaford Bros. distribution center on Hemco Road in South Portland Wednesday, Feb. 21, to protest the breakdown of contract negotiation with the company.
Tom Brown, director of servcies for Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, walks the picket line Wednesday at the Hannaford Bros. distrubution center on Hemco Road in South Portland.