QUINCY (CBS) -- Thousands of Stop & Shop workers walked off the job and went on strike Thursday afternoon. Some customers reported being told to leave their groceries behind and exit stores.
Employees could be seen holding signs and picketing outside. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO tweeted that 31,000 workers were on strike as of 1 p.m.
In Quincy, Norwood and Amebsury, customers told WBZ-TV that store workers suddenly told them to leave while they were shopping.
"I was shopping in Quincy and I had to leave my stuff right there and walk out," one shopper said.
Another in Amesbury said the store "ordered all customers to come to front, cash out, and leave."
One customer said she would go to another store, rather than cross the picket line. "I used to belong to a union, so I know what that means."
"I would support the workers," said another shopper, who said she would not cross picket lines.
Stop & Shop reacted to the strike in a statement:
"Given that negotiations with assistance of the federal mediators are continuing, we are disappointed that the UFCW chose to order a work stoppage in an attempt to disrupt service at our stores," Stop & Shop said. "Stop & Shop has contingency plans in place to minimize disruption."
Stores in Somerville, South Bay, Brookline, Quincy and Dedham have allowed customers back in, with temporary workers and corporate personnel assisting, a Stop & Shop spokesperson said. The company is working "as quickly as possible" to get more stores up and running.
UFCW Local 1445, which represents thousands of Stop & Shop workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, voted to authorize a strike in February.
There are disputes between management and workers on health insurance, pensions and vacation time. The union has accused Stop & Shop of trying to "degrade the quality of life" of works.
"What they're proposing is unfair, and we're not gonna take it," Matt Sorbello, a union leader in Mansfield, told WBZ-TV. "I've been here 25 years, always gotten time and a half on holidays and Sundays. . . they want to take that away."
Worker Matt Lombardi said even though he has a family to support, "I will not set foot into a Stop & Shop until this is settled."
"You know, they're trying to change a whole business model," said Peter Amati "Do me a favor - pick another group of suckers."
Robert Scott said workers were hoping they wouldn't have to strike. "I'd much rather be at work right now, to be honest," he said.
The company says it is offering across-the-board pay increases for all workers.
It is only grocery workers that are on strike. The banks and pharmacies in Stop & Shop stores are still open.
Most stores in Massachusetts were re-opened by Thursday night with corporate and temporary workers filling in.
Stop & Shop operates more than 400 stores in the northeast.
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