‘Marty’ the robot designed to ‘steal union jobs,’ workers say
You may have already run into “Marty,” the googly eyed robot being rolled out to Stop & Shop locations across Connecticut.
Stop & Shop parent company Ahold says Marty is designed to clean up spills, but local union workers say he’s designed to steal jobs.
“That’s definitely what it feels like,” said UFCW spokesperson Amy Ritter. “When you have actual people being replaced by self-checkout machines and Marty the robot there’s definitely an underlying sentiment that Ahold does not value its workers.”
Of the five United Food and Commercial Workers International Union locals in New England, one — 1445 in Massachusetts — has already authorized a strike.
Doug Mayo, a town councilor in Greenfield, Mass., posted on Facebook that he “renamed Marty to ‘Robbie,’” because “his whole reason for existence is to steal union jobs.”
He then put a union shirt on the robot, until management stepped in.
“All that said, I was able to convince Robbie to support UFCW by wearing a union support shirt,” Mayo wrote. “He wore the shirt down to aisles before management removed the shirt.”
Ahold did not return several requests for comment on this story, so it’s unclear if Marty the robot was released in part as a message to union negotiators, but the timing works.
The supermarket giant announced in mid-January that 500 Stop & Shop, Giant Food and Giant Martin's stores would get a robotic assistant. The union contract expired Feb. 23.
On Feb. 27, Ahold released an earnings report showing $2 billion in profits. CEO Frans Muller said, “Today, Ahold Delhaize is fit for the future, with a very robust financial profile and the right structure to further grow our brands, both in-store and online.”
Local 371, which represents workers in much of Connecticut, including Westport and Fairfield, is scheduled to vote to authorize a strike on March 6. Three more locals — 1459, 328 and 919 — will vote on a strike authorization March 10.
When asked if a strike is likely, Ritter said “progress was very minimal this past week.”
Locals 371 and 919 released a joint statement after the contract expired blaming “corporate greed.”
“Stop & Shop has known for the past three years that our contract was sent to expire on Feb. .23,” the statement said. “But because of their continued corporate greed throughout these negotiations, Stop & Shop employees and customers now find themselves in a position where job actions may take place.”
It’s been 30 years since the last time Stop & Shop workers went on strike.
“On March 22, 1988 Stop & Shop workers went on strike,” Ritter said. “It lasted 17 hours and we reached an agreement. We don’t want it to come to that.”
Jordan Fenster is digital products editor for Hearst Connecticut Media.