The fruits of their labor 

The grocery-clerk strike that has dragged on for five months in Stevensville has yet to reach a compromise, and shows no sign of doing so anytime soon.

Last May, about 19 clerks at Kutter’s IGA went out on strike after two-and-a-half years of union negotiations broke down. The issue is wages. The owners want to cut their store’s top salary of $10.45 an hour to $9.15 to stay competitive with Stevensville’s only other grocery, the non-union Super One.

For five months, drivers coming into or leaving Stevensville via the Eastside Highway have been greeted by picketers. Last Sunday was no exception, except that neither of the two men carrying signs out front was a store employee; both were paid by a consortium of local unions to picket. Anthony Kniffen, whose wife Lelonda is out on strike, carried a sign in support of his spouse. He says the strike “is not a matter of wanting to see the store shut down. It’s mostly about wanting to meet with (store owner Cary Kutter).”

Julie Kutter, who owns the store with her husband Cary, says they’ve been negotiating with the union for more than two years. Their goal, she says, is to make a business profit of $80 a day to stay competitive with Super One. And that means top wages will have to be cut. The Kutters have opened their books to the union and its accountants to prove their point. In response, she says, her husband has been called a liar and thief. She’s aggravated by the employees’ decision to strike at the only union grocery store in town. “We can’t afford to be a union store if we lost half our business to the competition.”

Only four to six employees still picket regularly. The rest have found other jobs.

Meanwhile, out on the picket line, Kniffen and his co-picketer, Rod Graham, say the passing motorist response has been “about 50-50.” Some people honk in support; others shout at them to get jobs, perhaps unaware they have jobs: picketing IGA, which pays anywhere from $150 to $175 a week.

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