August 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Rite Aid, the ubiquitous drug store chain that prides itself on its “personal” touch, is under fire this week from workers who say the company is engaging in an ugly attempt to weaken their union and defund pensions.
Rite Aid currently owes the employees health benefits fund some $8 million, according to the frustrated workers who hit the sidewalks outside the company’s 301 West 50th Street location earlier this week.
Management’s brazen attempts to remove pharmacists and interns from the traditional bargaining has further convinced longtime workers that their futures are no longer as secure as they once trusted.
“It’s a disgrace what’s going on,” 50-year-old Rite Aid employee Jamie Peters told LaborPress on Tuesday. “It’s unacceptable. The only reason I’m with Rite Aid is because of the benefits and I’ll fight for those benefits until I die.”
Rite Aide is the biggest drug store chain on the East Coast, and the third-largest drug store chain in the nation. It has 4,600 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia and employees some 89,000 people.
About 6,000 employees in New York City are members of 1199SEIU. Rite Aid’s attempt to remove new pharmacists and interns from the traditional bargaining unit is particularly egregious to the 84-year-old union.
“We are not going to give away our members — 1199 was started by pharmacists,” said Laurie Vallone, executive vice-president, CBO/Pharmacy Division. “They are the foundation of who we are.”
Tension between union members and management have been simmering for sometime. The bargaining agreement between both sides actually expired last year. An extension was subsequently added, but that, too, has now recently collapsed.
“Rite Aid cut our contracts and they are putting our benefits in jeopardy,” Rite Aide cashier Carlos Villalba said in a statement. “They don’t want to include the newly hired pharmacists in the union. The union is based on membership of all the members. If they take the pharmacists out it is going to affect all. When they take some people out, the payments that Rite Aid is going to make to the benefits fund are going to be much less. If there is no new money going into the pension fund, when employees retire, there will not be enough money for everybody else.”
Peters, who has worked for the same Rite Aid store in Queens for 29 years, described the working environment as “very hostile.”
“I want to work with these guys, but if we can’t work with them as a unit we have to be on the streets,” he said.
Rite Aid declined to comment on this story.