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After 5 years, Rite Aid workers get contract

The 500 workers at Rite Aid’s distribution center in Lancaster, Calif., overcame a relentless five-year anti-worker campaign to eventually gain a tentative contract and union recognition. Over the years, this struggle was the subject of many rallies and protests outside Rite Aid stores here in Washington state (see here and here).

The new three-year deal, reached on May 1,  guarantees fair health insurance rates, job security, a worker voice in production standards and wage increases in each of the next three years.

“We’re excited about winning this victory, even if it took longer than it should have,” said Carlos “Chico” Rubio, a 10-year warehouse worker.

That understates it a bit. More than five years after deciding to seek a voice at work by organizing with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 26, these Rite-Aid workers finally get a first contract. Rite Aid spent that time hiring an expensive team of union-busting “consultants and threatening or even firing workers who supported the union,” workers said.

There was a provision in the Employee Free Choice Act that would have provided for first-contract arbitration to prevent this kind of miscarriage of justice. But alas, although Washington state’s Democratic congressional delegation and state lawmakers strongly supported EFCA, the Democrat-controlled Congress of 2009-10 could not muster the collective will to pass this badly needed labor law reform.

Thankfully, the Rite Aid workers were able to stay united through their 5-year struggle and, in the end, won a contract and union recognition. “Rite Aid made this process much more difficult on workers and families than it needed to,” said ILWU Vice President Ray Familathe, who helped workers in the negotiations.

Much of this posting was written by James Parks and originally appeared at AFL-CIO Now.

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