A union representing truckers who supply Shaw’s supermarkets says it has authorized a strike after the breakdown of contract negotiations, but workers hope it won’t come to that.

Teamsters Local 340 is a union branch that serves 70 truck drivers and 11 mechanics who distribute goods to Shaw’s and Star Market stores in every New England state but Connecticut. Union members this week voted to approve a strike after contract negotiations with Shaw’s and its parent, Albertsons of Boise, Idaho, stalled, but they say it’s a warning to the company that hopefully won’t be carried through.

“The goal is not to strike,” Joe Piccone, chief negotiator for the union, said in an interview Saturday. “Nobody wants to go on strike – that’s the last thing you want.”

A spokesman for Shaw’s and Albertsons said on Saturday that the company was committed to reaching an agreement though negotiations.

Contract talks snagged on questions of drivers’ benefits, which Piccone said had been steadily eroded over the years as Shaw’s moved from local ownership to becoming a subsidiary of Albertsons, a Fortune 500 member that employs 270,000 people in multiple countries.

Retirement contributions from the company are minimal, Piccone said, and health plans offer high deductibles with lower support to pay premiums than union members would like. Piccone repeatedly attacked the grocery chain’s corporate ownership, saying negotiators for Shaw’s had to seek approval from Albertsons for any concessions, which rarely came.

“Anybody who thinks this is the neighborhood grocery store is out of their mind,” he said. “It’s a big corporation that doesn’t value Maine workers or thinks they aren’t savvy enough to comprehend.”

The vote to authorize a strike included the entire bargaining unit and was approved by a 3-to-1 ratio, according to Piccone. Still, the union members won’t leave work unless they have to.

“Now they’re left wondering – are we working tomorrow?” Piccone said of Shaw’s management. For now, he said, “We are.”

The spokesman for Shaw’s and Albertsons said management was thankful for the drivers’ hard work and had participated in sessions with a federal mediator in hopes of reaching an agreement.

“Shaw’s has been bargaining with Teamsters Local 340 with the intention of reaching an agreement on a contract that is fair and that rewards the loyalty and hard work of our 74 Wells Distribution Center drivers and mechanics,” the spokesman, Andrew Whelan, said in an email. “The current contract expired on October 15 and since then we have had numerous negotiation sessions with Local 340, including multiple sessions with a federal mediator.”

“We are thankful for all the work these associates do to support our stores, customers, and fellow associates. We are committed to continue bargaining towards a contract that will give these associates and their families certainty during unprecedented times. Finally, we are fully prepared to service and meet all of our customer needs as we work through these negotiations.”

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