LOS ANGELES—Many of us have stopped by a Rite Aid for some aspirin, band aids or maybe a soda and chips, but how many of us think about the workers behind the counter? Usually we get what we need and out the door we go. Well, the workers at Rite Aid are asking us to take a moment and think of them and the potential loss of jobs the company is proposing, loss of say in their healthcare and no wage increases.
On Wednesday, September 5, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) launched a boycott against Rite Aid stores, asking customers to shop elsewhere until Rite Aid management returns to the bargaining table with a fair contract offer for workers. The boycott protests Rite Aid management plans to strip health care from current retirees and slash 25 percent of full time workers.
The boycott comes less than a week before the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor votes to grant a strike sanction, officially approving a strike by Rite Aid workers if the union deems it necessary. UFCW is one of the 300 trade unions that are part of the County Fed, which represents over 800,000 union members.
The most recent contract between Rite Aid and its employees expired on July 14, 2018. Since then, Rite Aid has refused to change the substance of its offer.
“We are boycotting Rite Aid because they are doing their employees wrong,” said John Grant, President of UFCW Local 770. “The company made $21 billion last year. It paid its CEO a $3 million bonus for screwing up a merger with Albertsons. But they still want to stick it to their workers. This is unfair and unacceptable.”
Staging a boycott of a major company such as Rite Aid is not an everyday move. So exactly why are UFCW and its members taking these steps?
Rite Aid management has consistently and pointedly shown disrespect and contempt to its employees throughout negotiations. In addition to allowing the contract to expire without seriously negotiating, their offer demands include:
—Eliminating all retiree healthcare from current retirees, immediately leaving thousands of retired senior citizens without healthcare.
—Their proposal has misleading language about wage offers that would exempt almost 90 percent of employees from any wage increase. For example, if any employee’s wages are affected by minimum wage increases, or the employee is at the top wage step, they get nothing. This represents the vast majority of employees.
—Excluding employees from a say in their healthcare: Currently, the Rite Aid healthcare plan is jointly managed as a trust fund by the UFCW and Rite Aid. Rite Aid is making elimination of the joint management plan a precondition for any contract. Instead, they demand complete authority to raise premiums or eliminate benefits at their whim.
—Rite Aid’s proposal would eliminate 25 percent of the current full-time positions and instead replace them with part-time employees, many of whom would be ineligible for healthcare or retirement benefits.
UFCW Local 770 represents roughly 2000 Rite Aid employees working at 122 stores in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newhall, Arroyo Grande, Camarillo, Harbor City, San Fernando Valley, and Atascadero. Other UFCW locals representing Rite Aid employees and also promoting the boycott are: Local 135 (San Diego area), Local 324 (Orange County), Local 1428 (Covina), Local 1167 (Inland Empire), Local 1442 (Santa Monica), and Local 8 (Golden State).
A spokesperson for UFCW Local 770 could not confirm whether or not the general public outside of Southern California is encouraged to honor the boycott. Working people will have to decide for themselves if they want to continue patronizing Rite Aid for the duration of the boycott. Folks may decide this is a time for solidarity for fellow workers struggling to make a livable wage.
$21 billion in profits? Who made that happen? Rite Aid workers, not the CEO with the $3 million bonus!