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Workers and allies shake up Rite Aid shareholder meeting in NYC
Workers charged Rite Aid with abusive and illegal treatment at the company's annual meeting
By Rand Wilson
Veteran Rite Aid employee Angel Warner from the company's massive million-square-foot distribution center in the high-desert community of Lancaster, California, stood up for employees at the company's annual meeting.Rite Aid workers charged their employer with "abusive, disrespectful, and illegal treatment" at the company's annual shareholder meeting in New York City on Thursday morning, June 25.
Standing up for employees at the company's annual meeting was veteran Rite Aid employee Angel Warner, who attended representing 600 of her co-workers at the company's massive million-square-foot distribution center in the high-desert community of Lancaster, California, located about 60 miles from Los Angeles.
"The management abuse started after we complained about unscheduled, mandatory overtime that prevented parents from picking-up their kids after work," said Ms. Warner, who noted that parents faced discipline and firing if they left work to take care of their children. Ms. Warner also said that her co-workers were concerned about unsafe conditions in the warehouse that she described as "burning hot in the summer and so cold in the winter that it's like working in a icebox."
"When we told them we wanted to form a union to help us solve problems and have a voice on the job, the company went nuts and started attacking us," explained Warner. She says the company began systematically threatening and harassing co-workers for supporting the union and eventually fired several workers for backing the union.
Despite more than a year of company threats and harassment, Warner and her co-workers voted for the union in March of 2008. But instead of respecting the vote, Rite Aid launched a new set of attacks against workers; hiring a new team of anti-union consultants who formed a company-led committee in the warehouse to campaign against the union.
Speaking to 10 members of the Board of Directors, 12 top Rite Aid executives and about 40 shareholders, Warner asked Rite Aid CEO Mary Sammons to fire Oliver Bell & Associates, the union-busting firm that has been coaching managers on how to harass workers and undermine support for the union. Warner also demanded that the company begin negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement, and requested that CEO Mary Sammons come to Lancaster to personally meet with workers there.
Prior to the shareholders meeting, Angel Warner led a spirited rally in Times Square that was well attended by other unions representing tens of thousands of Rite Aid workers. Other union members attending came from the International Longshore Association (ILA). Speakers at the rally included representatives from 1199-SEIU (the union for Rite Aid retail store workers in New York), UFCW (the union for Rite Aid store employees in other parts of New York and New Jersey) and the Teamsters Union (the union for Rite Aid warehouse workers in West Virginia, New York, and other states).
Rally participants all signed a giant postcard with a message of solidarity and support from workers who attended the New York City rally that is being sent to workers in Lancaster. The rally was sponsored by the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 1.3 million workers.
Speakers noted that Rite Aid's massive interference in the right of workers to form a union and the company's failure to bargain in good faith with employees is a prime example of why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is needed.
A shareholder resolution that would require management to submit executive compensation packages to a non-binding shareholder vote fell short by a small margin. The resolution was filed by the New York City Office of the Comptroller on behalf of the $107 billion New York City Employees' Retirement System and New York City Teachers' Retirement System.
"Rite Aid's model for CEO pay is clearly broken," said Louis Mazilia, an official from the Teamsters Union. "A say on CEO pay would tie compensation at Rite Aid to long-term value creation and good corporate governance."