Liquor store suffers from neighbor’s labor dispute

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791 members, Michael McKeon (left) and Al Ortenzi (right), protest at the entrance of the Harborpoint Marketplace on Morrissey Boulevard on Tuesday, June 29.  Photo by Tara W. MerriganUnited Food and Commercial Workers Local 791 members, Michael McKeon (left) and Al Ortenzi (right), protest at the entrance of the Harborpoint Marketplace on Morrissey Boulevard on Tuesday, June 29. Photo by Tara W. Merrigan

The parking lot of Harborpoint Marketplace was nearly empty yesterday at midday. Standing on the sidewalk near the shopping center’s entrance, several members of United Food and Commercial Worker Local 791 held signs in large, bold letters urging potential patrons to abstain from shopping at Shaw’s.

For the past four months, members of the Local 791 have picketed outside the Morrissey Boulevard shopping center, which is home to Shaw’s and Harborpoint Liquors. Harbor Point Liquors owners Teresa and Paul Lynch claim that the strike has caused a ten to twenty percent drop in their sales—though they have no ties with Shaw’s corporation.

“I just feel like I’m stuck in the middle,” said Mr. Lynch. “I just happen to be in the same parking lot as Shaw’s. I do empathize with them [Local 791 picketers]. Unfortunately their strike is affecting me.”
While some package store customers said their shopping habits had not been affected by the picket line, others noted that the strike had made them wary of entering the Harbor Point Marketplace parking lot.

“The strike has definitely made me more hesitant about coming into the parking lot, but I still need to come here,” said Ching Cheh Huang. “If I had a car I would drive down to the South Shore. I do understand what the guys out there want—a company is supposed to treat its employees well.”

Mrs. Lynch said that during the first days of the strike union members harassed her staff and customers when entering the parking lot; however, the number of demonstrators has dwindled since then, and picketers are cordial to those bound for Harbor Point Liquors once they made their destination known.
Both  Local 791 spokesperson Peter Derouen and picketers said that the union has no issue with Harborpoint Liquors or its customers.

“Some people will drive by and say, ‘I’m just going to the liquor store,’” said Methuen distribution center employee and picketer Michael McKeon of Haverhill. “Then we’re like, ‘Okay that’s fine.’ We have no problem with the liquor store.”

The demonstrators—who said they picket outside of Shaw’s twelve hours a day, six days a week—have noticed fewer cars in the Shaw’s parking lot.

Mr. Lynch said that some delivery trucks will not cross the picket line due to drivers’ union regulations and companies such as Budweiser now sends only one shipment instead of two a week via a special delivery truck with a manager or non-union driver. Other manufacturers avoid the picket line by entering the parking lot through a back driveway.

UFCW Local 791 members working at Shaw’s distribution center in Methuen went on strike on March 7 after the corporation offered union employees a contract that would require individuals to use 20 to 28 hours worth of their week’s pay to cover the cost of their health insurance plan, according to McKeon.  Picketers said that each contract Shaw’s has offered since then has been progressively worse.
Package store management said that the Shaw’s next door is rumored to have lost ten to twenty percent of its sales as well.

Mrs. Lynch said that with no end to the strike in sight, the prospect of losing more customers worries her during this time of economic recovery.

“It’s been tough because the economy is so lousy anyway,” she said. “It [the economic downturn] hits us harder because we’re a small business—we don’t have a corporation to fall back on like Shaw’s does.  We’re just a family-owned business so it harder for us to take the hit of the bad economy along with the strike.”