A Worcester, Mass. Shaws outlet is at the centre of a tense union dispute led by female community and religious leaders.

A third wave of arrests yesterday [Wednesday] saw Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of the National Interfaith Committee, taken to Worcester District Court in leg shackles and handcuffs, charged with trespassing.

Bobo was removed from the store with Susan Phillips, a leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); Kathy Cassavant, a leader of the Massachusett's AFL-CIO, and Cherie Acqulina, a local UFCW representative.

The four women, who entered the Shaw's store in Auburn, Massachusetts to distribute information to women workers about health care costs, claimed that they were protesting against the British owned food retailer's "unilateral denial of a voice for workers at 11 supermarkets in central Massachusetts".

According to Phillips, "Shaw's threatened the children, the families of their own workers, with excessive, unnecessary and unaffordable increases in the workers' health care costs.

"As women, we have the power. We control both sides of the cash register. We are the cashiers on one side - and we are the customers on the other side. If we join hands across the cash register, we can change the economic future of women,"

The women had targeted health care costs as a primary issue in the struggle at the company. A union health care plan would have reduced Shaw's insurance cost by 14%. Workers could have had lower costs under a UFCW plan. Full-time Shaw's workers in other areas of Massachusetts pay a maximum of US$5 a week for family coverage under a union plan.

"Shaw's threatened to nearly triple workers' family health care costs in order to suppress support for the union," said a UFCW communique.