A half-dozen people stand outside a Fullerton Rite Aid donning yellow shirts and passing out hand bills to customers walking into the store. They aren’t being given coupons for Thrifty’s ice cream to cool down an unusually humid summer day. Instead, an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 324 uses them to talk to a customer who listens attentively about the corporation’s proposed changes to health insurance and what effects that such would have on workers.
The union represents about a thousand Rite Aid workers, from clerks to pharmacists, in Orange County and elsewhere. They’ve been engaged in contract negotiations for months with no foreseeable settlements. With an impasse, leafleters have posted outside Rite Aid locations in Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Rancho Santa Margarita, Costa Mesa and, of course, Fullerton where UFCW Local 324 executive vice president Matt Bell made a stop Wednesday afternoon.
“The three main things are job protection, wages and health care,” Bell tells the Weekly. “Whenever we have contract negotiations, Rite Aid continually tries to take over the employee health care, which is in a union trust fund, so that it would be an employee-based health care.” UFCW Local 324 sees such a move as one that would translate into higher cost and less coverage while describing the current trust fund as healthy. “They’re also not offering significant wage increases and the cost of health care eats that up entirely,” Bell adds.
“Rite Aid is committed to bargaining in good faith and reaching an agreement that is fair to all parties involved and positions Rite Aid to be competitive in the evolving healthcare marketplace,” Ashley Flower, Rite Aid spokeswoman, writes the Weekly. “We’re not sure why the Union has decided to leaflet outside our stores. We wish they would direct the energy associated with those efforts to the bargaining table and doing the hard work necessary to reach a new agreement. We look forward to having productive discussions at the bargaining table today and tomorrow.”
The leaflets in question also point customers to an online petition rallying their cause ahead of a $24 billion merger to come with Albertson’s. The Aug. 9 merger vote looms over current contract negotiations with Bell unsure of how they’ll be effected going forward. Albertson’s is a union employer that is represented by UFCW Local 324, but concerns remain.
“When they merge together, when there’s a Rite Aid and Albertson’s in the same area and both have a pharmacy, what does that mean for the Rite Aid stores and workers?” Bell asks. “Our fear is loss of jobs and we want to make sure through this process that the workers have secure jobs.”
The union has negotiation dates scheduled with Rite Aid today and tomorrow with hopes of securing a contract before the merger. The conversations sparked over leaflets in the lead up have proved useful.
“Actually, customers have been very receptive,” Bell says. “A majority of them coming in or out understand what’s going on and side with the workers. They understand that in these corporate mergers it’s not workers or consumers that usually make out. Prices go up and workers get screwed.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.