DORCHESTER (CBS) – Former Vice President and possible 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden urged striking Stop & Shop workers to “keep it going!” and “don’t give up!” in Dorchester Thursday afternoon.
“Wall Street bankers and CEOs did not build America. You build America,” Biden said.
Biden, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Sen. Ed Markey and Treasurer Deb Goldberg were among the leaders who addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Stop & Shop in the South Bay Center on Massachusetts Avenue.
“What’s happening here is workers are not being treated across the board with dignity,” Biden said. “They’re not being treated like they matter.”
Thirty-one thousand union workers at 240 stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut went on strike on April 11 after the company proposed raising weekly health care costs from employees from $2 to $4.
“How can they make that money, buy back all that stock, and then tell you they’re going to cut your wages; they’re going to cut overtime; they’re going to cut your medical benefits,” Biden said. “How in God’s name does that match anything?”
The union also says Stop & Shop is trying to reduce pension benefits for part-timers and new hires.
“We’ve had enough of this,” Biden said. “It’s not just happening here, it’s happening with union movements all across the country.”
WATCH: Biden’s Full Speech
The Quincy-based company says it is offering wage increases and larger pension contributions for current workers.
“There is nothing we want more than having our associates back in the stores, taking care of customers and our communities,” Stop & Shop spokesperson Jennifer Brogan said in a statement before Biden’s visit Thursday.
“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.”
If the strike lasts through the week, retail experts say the impact could be devastating to Stop & Shop’s sales with Passover and Easter coming up this weekend.
Striking stop & Shop employee Brian Boland was glad Biden threw his support behind their fight. “I think it’s great. Any support we can get from any politician is fantastic,” Boland said. “Doesn’t matter Democrat or Republican. This is about workers’ rights.”
Striking employee Joe Guagnti said he was surprised Biden came to the Stop & Shop picket line. “Because the papers were saying a political candidate shouldn’t be involved in something like this,” Guagnati said. “It’s a business thing, but if he can help our cause, then that’s great.”