Biden rallies with Stop & Shop workers days before agreement


Kenneal Patterson

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Stop & Shop workers on strike in Dorchester last Thursday.

Kenneal Patterson, news staff

UPDATED at 4:42 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23    

After 11 days on strike and more than three months of negotiations, over 30,000 Stop & Shop employees reached a tentative agreement with the company on Sunday that met their demands for better pay and health care coverage.

A strike status update released by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents workers in more than 240 Stop & Shop locations across New England, confirmed that its members would return to work Monday morning while local unions vote on the terms of the agreement.

Stop & Shop also released a statement in which it announced it reached “fair new tentative agreements with UFCW Locals 328, 371, 919, 1445 and 1459.”


Hundreds gathered in Dorchester last Thursday to watch former Vice President Joe Biden speak at a rally for striking Stop & Shop employees. Chants from unsatisfied workers reverberated throughout Stop & Shop’s parking lot as supporters joined in to barricade the store’s entrance. The noise from the picket line dwindled only when Biden took to the stand and pledged to stand in solidarity.

“What’s happening here is workers are not being treated across the board with dignity. They’re not being treated like they matter,” Biden said.

Many workers expressed discontent with Stop & Shop’s proposed contract, which included a rise in health care premiums as well as unappealing wages and reduced pension benefits.

 Despite freezing rain beating down, the huddled masses of protesters remained. They marched in front of the store and urged customers to stand behind their picket line.

For Stop & Shop employee Dave Sigmon, persistence was key until a resolution was met.

“There are a lot of hardworking individuals who’ve given day in and day out of their lives…so this strike is really in support of all of us who put in that 110 percent,” Sigmon said.

Current employees were not the only ones in attendance; a community of supporters united to assist the workers. Past customers such as Hailey Havens emphasized the importance of the rally and the inspiration they got from the workers’ resilience.  

“I think it shows, for anyone who’s critical of any strike, if people are willing to be spending their time still at their place of work not working, and not getting paid, it means that things are pretty bad and they probably deserve what they’re asking for,” Havens said. “I think it’s the community’s role to then support those workers in trying to achieve what they’re asking for.”

Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said she sees it as her duty to support and rally for the workers.

“We’re nurses and we take care of people and right now, nobody’s taking care of the workers that work here and work so hard,” Kelly-Williams said. “Many of them have dedicated their entire career working for this organization that’s not treating them fairly. And we want to be there to support them.”

Despite the plea to support the strikers, many were torn about Biden’s arrival. Some called his actions “hypocritical”.

“I don’t think necessarily all of his actions legislatively have backed this up, I think in some ways he’s capitalizing on the iconography of an oppressed group, and I think it’s kind of bull[expletive],” Havens said. “If you’re only going out to support, as a politician, these types of agendas when they’re like in houses burning down mode, that doesn’t really convince me that you’re passionate about what you say you are.”

Queen Hall and Megan Gilson, two activists with the Retail Action Project, agreed with Havens. After driving all the way from New York to rally with the workers, they acknowledged their dislike of Biden.

“We see these workers being exploited. There should be no reason why they’re treated like this. They’re the backbone of our worker’s group. They’re the backbone of this country,” Hall said.  “Unfortunately, capitalism is the reason why we’re here today. A fault in it. And that’s what Joe Biden stands for.”

Gilson echoed this sentiment, noting that Biden was simply making a political pit stop.

“Let’s be quite honest, as much as Joe Biden is here to support us, he’s not here to support us. He’s literally going to stand here, smile, wave, maybe do a speech and then go home,” Gilson said. “He’s not part of this society. It’s political, and everything’s political these days. And that’s the problem.”

Before Biden arrived, many community leaders greeted the protesters and thanked the crowd for their courage, reminding them not to give up. Steven A. Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, or The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, spoke about a fight for “American values” and “the existence of the middle class.”

“[Stop & Shop has] forced you out into the streets to fight for your livelihoods and to fight for the future of our neighborhoods,” Tolman said. “Brothers and sisters, if you need any proof that your fight is on the right side of history, just take a look at the outpouring of support on every corner of New England and across our entire nation.”

He stressed the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of the strike, promising the crowd that everyone is in the fight together, a fight that will impact “generations to come.”

In a later statement, Tolman deemed Stop & Shop’s actions unacceptable. For him, the fight was long overdue.

“American workers have had enough. The givebacks and the takebacks are unacceptable. For the last 30 to 40 years we haven’t seen any increase in our wages. We’ve had healthcare pushed on us like a second mortgage, and they don’t even want to talk about retirement benefits with dignity,” Tolman said. “American workers have had enough, and I hope this is the beginning of saying we’re going to change this.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was also present at the speech, spoke about Boston’s identity. Walsh said everyone should be “respecting the workers of this city and this state.” After vowing his continuous support, he briefly paused his speech to lead the workers in a chant — a powerful cry of “Don’t cross the line!”  

“The company wanted to take away health insurance. That’s something that we can’t stand for. When the company doesn’t want to pay basic wages to people, that’s something we can’t stand for. When the company doesn’t want to support people’s long-term longevity and pensions, we can’t stand for that,” Walsh said. “That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are as a city, that’s not who we are as a state, and that’s certainly not who we should be as a country. We need to make sure we stand up for our working-class people.”


When Biden arrived, the crowd’s energy swelled. He commended the workers for their bravery, advocating for human decency. He quoted his father, saying that a job is about a lot more than a paycheck.

Biden continued with a message of fairness and respect, emphasizing the role of the middle class. The middle class, he said, is not a number — it is a value set.

“What’s happening here is workers are not being treated across the board with dignity. They’re not being treated like they matter,” Biden said. “And let me get something straight with you all. Wall Street bankers and CEOs did not build America. You built America. We built America. Ordinary middle class people built America … and you know who built the middle class? Unions.”

Unions have been in steady decline for years. Elizabeth Lott, a staff member at Union 1199 SEIU, believes the preservation of unions is vital to the protection of working Americans. For Lott, the strike is much bigger than Stop & Shop — the outcome could influence millions across the nation.  

“The closer we get to having no unions, the closer we all get to having no voice in the workplace,” Lott said. “So if these guys lose, unions everywhere lose. Because of corporate greed, every time [corporations] win, it just beats us down more and more and it makes the other greedy corporate jerks feel more powerful. They band together, and we fall. Whereas if we stay united, then we don’t fall. We stay strong.”  

Although the former vice president is still deciding whether or not to run for the upcoming presidential election, he said that his presence at the rally was for much more than publicity.

“Look, I know you’re used to hearing political speeches, and I’m a politician. I get it,” Biden said. “But it’s way beyond that, guys. This is way beyond that. This is wrong. This is morally wrong, what’s going on around this country. And I’ve had enough of it, I’m sick of it, and so are you!”

As the crowd erupted into cheers, Biden ended with a final message: be aware of those around you. He encouraged everybody to thank the laborers whom he said are often neglected and ignored.

“Think about how we don’t treat hard work and American middle class people with any dignity. My dad used to have an expression, and he means this. Every single person deserves to be treated with dignity … We got to start recognizing what people do, because it matters to everybody. It matters whether or not they feel respected,” Biden said. “We got to stand together, and if we do, we will take back this country!”

The UFCW stated that Stop & Shop has tried to “weaken resolve” by taking dues from workers’ paychecks last week. The company still insists on certain issues: raising healthcare premiums, excluding spouses from healthcare, cutting pension payments, increasing automated machines to replace customer service and refusing to meet employee demand for better wages.      

Biden motivated the workers to “keep it going” as they finished their first week on the picket lines.