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After Half-Decade Struggle, Rite Aid Workers Form Union at Giant Distribution Center

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randwilsonRite Aid workers at the company’s massive Southwest Distribution Center in Lancaster, Calif., declared victory on May 1 in their five-year effort to form a union and improve working conditions.

Workers signed a three-year tentative contract with management—subject to a May 12 membership ratification vote—that will improve conditions at the million-square-foot facility in California’s high desert by guaranteeing:

  • Health insurance rates that are fair for both individual workers and their families
  • Job security provisions to prevent work from being sub-contracted
  • A worker voice in production standards and ability to challenge unfair standards
  • Protection against intense summer heat and winter cold, using innovative indoor-temperature standards
  • A fair and impartial process for resolving disputes
  • Wage increases in each of the next 3 years.

“We’re excited about winning this victory, even if it took longer than it should have,” said Carlos “Chico” Rubio, a 10-year warehouse worker who helped negotiate the union contract with a team of eight co-workers.

Employees decided to form their union in March of 2006 after contacting the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU). Within months, Local 26 President Luisa Gratz was helping workers address problems with indoor heat and production standards.

Unfortunately, Rite Aid began aggressively interfering with the workers’ freedom to organize:

  • Management retained an expensive team of notorious union-busting consultants.
  • The company threatened and fired workers for supporting the union
  • Illegal layoffs were imposed without consulting workers and their new union.
  • The company engaged in “surface bargaining” that delayed meaningful negotiations for a year.

Responding to these challenges, Rite Aid workers stayed united and helped their union lead a sophisticated campaign that included:

“Rite Aid made this process much more difficult on workers and families than it needed to,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe, who helped workers reach their May 1 settlement.

This post originally appeared in In These Times on May 4, 2011.

About the Author: Rand Wilson is communications coordinator at the AFL-CIO Organizing Dept.’s Center for Strategic Research. He has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator in the United States since the 1980s. For more information about Wilson, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rand_Wilson

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Employee Free Choice supporters blast Rite Aid with new report on company’s union busting at West Coast warehouse

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Supporters urging passage of the Employee Free Choice Act took to the streets on Monday, August 10 to back warehouse workers at Rite Aid’s massive distribution center in Lancaster, California. They released a new Jobs with Justice report about how management there has aggressively interfered in workers’ freedom to form a union.

The 12-page report: “Rite Aid, Oliver J. Bell & Associates, and the Case for the Employee Free Choice Act” documents how management employed union busters and violated labor laws. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board was prepared to charge Rite Aid with 49 unfair labor practice charges before the cases were settled out of court.

“Union avoidance consultants, such as those engaged by Rite Aid, have contributed significantly to the subversion of the National Labor Relations Act,” said John Logan from the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment at the University of California at Berkeley whose research has focused on workers’ rights. “Using every weapon at their disposal, they encourage employers to fight to the death efforts by employees to form unions.”

The actions were led by local Jobs with Justice coalitions in Boston, Bangor, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Montpelier, Portland, OR and Richmond, VA. AFL-CIO organizer Rand Wilson and two community activists infiltrated a major pharmaceutical industry conference at the Boston Convention Center where a Rite Aid manager was speaking. As soon as he was done, they stood up and blasted Rite Aid’s union busting while distributing copies of the report to the pharmacy convention delegates. The report was also released in six other cities. At some locations, other Rite Aid workers’ unions — 1199 SEIU, UFCW and the Teamsters — joined the support actions.

Despite the company’s attacks, a majority the of the workers voted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 26 in March 2008. But more than a year later, Rite Aid management is still refusing to negotiate a first contract that would improve wages and working conditions for employees.

“Rite Aid’s intense and longstanding interference in the workers efforts to form a union — in which professional union busters have played a major role — and its failure to bargain in good faith with employees are seen as prime examples of why efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act are so important,” said Veronica Turner, Vice President for Health Systems at 1199 SEIU in Boston.

“If Employee Free Choice were the law of the land, the workers at the Rite Aid distribution center would have settled their contract by now. Access to mediation and arbitration on first contracts would prevent companies like Rite Aid from dragging their feet in negotiations to frustrate workers and defeat efforts to improve working conditions,” said Mark Govoni, Vice President of UFCW Local 1445 in Boston.

After the press conference, activists announced they would leaflet five Rite Aid stores in the Boston metropolitan area to inform customers about the company’s aggressive interference in workers’ rights and the need for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to help prevent union busting.

About the Author Rand Wilson: was a Teamster communications staffer who helped coordinate the 1996-97 contract campaign and strike at UPS. He can be reached at rand@mindspring.com. 

This article originally appeared on Working Life on August 11, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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