BOSTON/Fenway - Several local members of United Students Against Sweatshops and labor supporters gathered outside the Rite Aid at 1295 Boylston St. yesterday to protest what they call "sweatshop conditions" for workers at Rite Aid's Southwest Regional Distribution Center in Lancaster, CA, where 550 workers are in the sixth year of a struggle to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and bargain a contract.
Some Lancaster workers have been illegally fired during the organizing drive - drawing ire from USAS and other labor advocates - but the main target of current protests is Rite Aid's attempt to raise their workers health care costs. USAS says that the company wants to overcharge its workers 28 times the actual cost of their health care plan.
The activists leafletted passers-by and collected signatures on a petition in support of better labor conditions at Rite Aid. The event was part of a national USAS day of action against Rite Aid in several cities.
Claire Lewis, a member of the Northeastern University Progressive Student Alliance (a USAS chapter), explained her organization's participation in the action, "Members of Progressive Student Alliance strongly believe in the right of workers to organize free from intimidation, so we were very concerned when we heard about the illegal firings at Rite Aid's distribution center in Lancaster, CA. We decided to deliver a letter to the manager of our local Rite Aid in the hope that the message would reach Rite Aid headquarters. The letter stated our concern for the illegal firings in Lancaster and the new scheme that will overcharge employees for their healthcare.
PSA members attempted to deliver their letter to store management about halfway through the action, but Rite Aid employees refused to take it or read it.
However, Ashley Flower, a public relations manager for Rite Aid, responded to a request for comment from Open Media Boston, "In regards to your inquiry about the health care plan, we believe our benefits plan is fairly costed for the benefits being provided to associates, and very generous compared to other employers.
"Further, since June of this year, we have had more than 20 bargaining sessions with the union and have additional sessions scheduled for December. We have been and will continue to bargain in good faith, as we do with all unions that represent Rite Aid associates, for an agreement that is fair to everyone involved."
Advocates disagree with Rite Aid's position, and plan to continue their pressure campaign against the drugstore chain.
Rand Wilson, a local representative for the national AFL-CIO who joined the USAS action, said, "I think Rite Aid management got the message that the campaign for justice for Rite Aid workers is growing and spreading. If they continue to drag their feet in negotiations with their workers it is going to cost them much more than they will save by nickel and dimeing the workers."