by Rand Wilson
Workers, union activists and community supporters took part in more than 40 actions at Rite Aid stores in 11 states yesterday as part of a National Day of Action to focus attention on the company’s corporate greed and disrespect for workers’ rights. Rite Aid, the country’s third largest retail drugstore chain, has been stalling for more than two years on negotiating a first contract with employees at its massive Southwest Regional Distribution Center in Lancaster, Calif., where 550 workers joined the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in March 2008. The company is demanding that workers pay exorbitant increases in their health care premiums.
Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the ILWU, which organized the Day of Action, said:
Rite Aid executives are taking millions of dollars for themselves–then telling employees to pay for management’s mistakes by gouging workers for health insurance. This kind of corporate greed is wrong; it’s ruining Rite Aid and wrecking America. Citizens across the country are volunteering to help Rite Aid workers stand up and fight back against corporate greed.
In Massachusetts, delegations of Jobs with Justice members and supporters crowded into four Rite Aid stores to give managers letters of concern. The letters read, in part:
“ Americans are fed up with the way that corporate greed is wrecking America. Rite Aid is becoming an example of what’s wrong with our country – when it could be an example of a well-managed company that treats its workers with respect.”
In Oakland, Calif., Mayor-elect Jean Quan joined protestors to speak out for justice at Rite Aid. In downtown Philadelphia, more than 70 Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members handed out leaflets to educate the public about Rite Aid management’s efforts to cheat its workers on health care.
In addition to dramatically raising health care costs for workers in Lancaster, Rite Aid announced it is closing a distribution center in In Rome, N.Y., that pays family-sustaining wages and benefits and provides workers with a voice on the job. Work is being shifted to a nearby nonunion location that pays low wages with few benefits.
Rand Wilson is a member of the AFL-CIO’s field staff.