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Local faith groups lend support to Shaw's marchers

Posted by Alix Roy  May 26, 2010 10:04 AM

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Around 40 Shaw's workers and their supporters emerged Monday evening hot and tired from Day 2 of a five-day, 60 mile march to protest increased health insurance costs included in a proposed final contract.

Soaring temperatures made the 19-mile journey a laborious task, but according to march organizer and participant Megan Pierce, the support shown to workers along the route has been well-worth the sunburns.

“It's been really, really great,” she said from the march on Tuesday. “We've received incredible support from the communities.”

In particular, numerous religious and cultural organizations have stepped up to provide food and shelter for marchers during the trek from the Methuen Warehouse all the way to Beacon Hill. On Tuesday night, Shaw's employees were offered lodging at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Medford, where Rev. Hank Peirce and members of the congregation were on hand to welcome them.

For Peirce, who heard about the march during an immigration rally, opening the church doors was a way to carry out the congregation's mission of helping others.

“It's important for us to be able to be there for folks,” he said, adding that he supports the workers in their quest for a new contract. “Shaw's made $40 billion this year...to ask workers to kick in an extra $28 per week isn't fair. It really speaks to greed.”

Peirce is not alone in voicing his his support, 80 clergy members from Massachusetts have signed a petition asking Shaw's to renegotiate a fair contract with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 791 and restore health benefits to its members. Workers on strike were stripped of their benefits in April several weeks after the union rejected a contract requiring employees to assume the full cost of health insurance increases, the petition states.

“Health care should not be used as an economic weapon in a labor dispute,” the letter reads. “We are calling on you to restore health insurance to these families immediately.”

According to Marya Axner, Regional Director of the Jewish Labor Committee in Boston and member of Temple B'nai Brith in Somerville, clergy members attempted to hand deliver the petition but were turned away at Supervalu headquarters despite having an appointment to speak with representatives of the Shaw's parent company.

The Jewish Labor Committee has continued to lend its full support to the workers' cause, and is co-hosting a bagel breakfast for marchers at Temple B'nai Brith on Thursday, she said. Temple B'nai Brith has also made the decision to boycott Shaw's supermarkets, and Axner said she personally will not be visiting the store.

“The company cut their health benefits three weeks into the strike, that's not OK,” Axner said on Tuesday. “We wanted to support their cause and [get] people to learn about it.”

B'nai Brith President Charles Munitz said he was proud to support the marchers in their quest for fair benefits.

“Congregation B'nai Brith is pleased to join other religious organizations which have offered shelter and a spirit of support to the Shaw's workers during this difficult time, and hope for a just and reasonable solution in the near future,” he wrote in an email. 

After concluding their fourth day of marching at Temple B'nai Brith on Wednesday, strikers will head to the nearby Latin American immigrant organization Centro Presente for dinner. Elected officials and leaders from various faith organizations have been invited to attend the event, which will feature a welcoming ceremony and brief speeches by staff, said Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes.
 
“We are a real good ally of the union and supportive of the workers,” she said on Tuesday. “Most of them are immigrants also and we understand that their lives are being affected by this.”

Marchers will also pay a visit to Shaw's stores in Medford and Somerville, where workers have been picketing for 12 weeks, before arriving at the State House for a rally on Thursday afternoon.

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