Speaking to hundreds of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden said he is "sick" of how their employer is making billions of dollars while treating employees like they don't matter.
Standing on the back of a flatbed truck in the parking lot of a Stop & Shop supermarket in the Dorchester neighborhood, Biden told the picketing workers, "Don't give up."
"What's happening here is that workers are not being treated across the board with dignity. They're not being treated like they matter," said Biden, standing in front of a sign reading "One job should be enough."
"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, guys, that's not hyperbole. That's just a simple fact."
Workers at about 240 Stop & Shop stores — most of which are in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island — walked off their jobs on April 11 after the company proposed changes to wages and pension and health care plans. About 31,000 workers, represented by United Food & Commercial Workers International, have been walking picket lines ever since.
The workers' labor contract expired on Feb. 23.
The union says the company's latest offer would take away premium pay for union employees who work on national holidays and Sundays, eliminate pay raises and reduce the company's contributions to pensions and health care costs.
The company, however, says that under its proposal, workers' wages would rise and remain above the industry average. Stop & Shop, owned by Dutch supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize, would cover at least 92% of health care premiums for family coverage and 88% for individual coverage, according to the proposal.
The company says workers would see the health care premiums they pay rise from $2 to $4 a week.
"There is nothing we want more than having our associates back in the stores, taking care of customers and our communities," Jennifer Brogan, communications director for Stop & Shop, said in a statement to ABC News following Biden's speech. "We have offered fair and responsible contracts and remain in active negotiations to reach new agreements as quickly as possible that keep our associates among the highest paid grocery retail workers in New England, while also providing excellent health care and increased contributions to a defined benefit pension plan."
Biden, a possible presidential contender, noted that Stop & Shop's parent company made $4 billion in the last two years and received a huge tax cut in 2017 under President Donald Trump's tax reform policy, which he called "a scam."
"And what do they do?" Biden said of Ahold Delhaize. "They bought back $3 billion of their own stock. You know why? Because that increased the value of the stock that's left. That means the CEO gets paid a hell of a lot more, the wealthy get paid a lot more and the stock carriers get paid a lot more."
In January, Ahold Delhaize reported that in the fourth quarter of 2018 its sales increased by about 3%, or $18.76 billion.
"In the U.S., we continued to see good momentum in the financial performance across the brands. We are excited about the program to refresh the look and feel of our Stop & Shop brand and the rapid expansion of our Click and Collect options for our customers," Frans Muller, president and CEO of Ahold Delhaize, said in the report.
Biden said that instead of sharing profits with its workers, Ahold Delhaize seems more intent on continuing to boost its bottom line.
"It used to be a basic bargain that if you contributed to the benefit of the outfit you work with, you got to share in the benefits," Biden added. "But that doesn't happen anymore. Wages have gone up very little, productivity has gone up exponentially and where are you sitting? The same place you've been before. This is wrong. This is morally wrong what's going on around the country and I've had enough of it. I'm sick of it and so are you."