Rand Wilson is a campaign coordinator for the Center for Strategic Research at the AFL-CIO. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) requested this department’s assistance after the workers’ narrow election win in March 2008. Below, Bryan Koulouris interviews Rand for Justice newspaper and SocialistAlternative.org.
BK: How did the campaign for workers’ rights start at Rite Aid?
RW: Rite Aid workers began organizing to form a union with the ILWU in April 2006 because they were concerned about mandatory overtime, extreme heat or cold working conditions, and management’s disrespectful treatment of workers on the job.
What types of tactics were used in this campaign?
The most important thing is to show management that workers are united on the job and ready to fight for what’s right or needed. Rite Aid workers signed petitions on issues, held cafeteria meetings to keep co-workers informed and had plant gate rallies that involved other unions and the community.
Rite Aid workers confronted top managers and members of the board at the company’s shareholder meetings and other industry events. Many groups supported the workers by leafleting customers and speaking with managers at their local Rite Aid stores.
Frustrated by the lack of progress in over three years of talks, the ILWU - with strong support from the workers at the Lancaster Distribution Center - eventually began what we called a “pinpoint” boycott of two Rite Aid stores in San Pedro, CA. Within weeks, hundreds of Rite Aid customers at these stores pledged to “strip their scripts” by transferring prescriptions to other union drugstores in the area.
What was the response of the company?
Rite Aid management aggressively interfered with employees’ freedom to form their union by illegally disciplining, harassing and firing some union supporters. Their union, ILWU Local 26, filed charges at the NLRB.
What is the result of this campaign?
On May 12, Rite Aid workers voted 219-145 in favor of accepting their first union contract. The new agreement guaranteed modest raises over the next three years and clearly spelled out work rules and disciplinary procedures. It set up a better process for awarding overtime and setting production standards. It provides new job security protections from outside contractors. Health insurance costs will only go up a maximum of ten cents per hour for family coverage and will be even less for other plans.
For a longer version of this interview, visit SocialistAlternative.org.
Readers can learn more about the struggle of Rite Aid workers at: www.riteaidworkers.net or visit the Rite Aid Workers United page on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/pages/Rite-Aid-Workers-United/116484621761301