By Miriam Raftery
September 22, 2010 (Santee)—Outside Walgreens pharmacy in Santee today, local carpenters held a banner reading “Shame on Walgreens.”
“This is a nationwide campaign,” Ian Law, a representative of Carpenters Union Local 1506, told East County Magazine. “Walgreens has decided to use non-union contractors and sub-contractors to do remodeling and construction of Walgreens stores around the nation,” he said. Non-union contractors may avoid paying healthcare and pension benefits to workers, also paying lower wages that threaten the quality of life for workers and their families, Law added.
Times are tough in the construction industry locally. “Construction’s been dropping and nothing new is being put on the books,” Law noted, adding that multiple construction trades have joined forces to ask the public to help persuade Walgreen to reverse its policies.
A flyer handed out by the carpenters said Walgreens is contributing to “desecration of the American way of life” by eroding area standards for carpenter craft workers.The flyer suggests that Walgreens is cutting costs on labor in order to generate funds to pay for millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts against the company for cutting corners on other areas, including public safety. For example:
• A $25 million judgment against Walgreens was made by a Florida court for prescription mistakes that resulted in deaths;
• A $24 million race discrimination suit was filed against Walgreens by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;
• A $6 mllion settlement was reached in a Federal Trade Commission suit for alleged deceptive marketing by Walgreens;
• A $35 million settlement was made in a Medicaid whistleblower lawsuit allegedging that Walgreens switched prescriptions to higher cost medications.
“Is Wal-Mart responsible to shareholders of the company, or to the people who shop here and work here?” asked Law.
The labor dispute began about a month ago on the East Coast and has now spread to the West Coast. Pickets have been protested local Walgreens for about three weeks, Law said, but have yet to receive significant media attention regarding their cause.
East County Magazine’s editor asked to speak with management inside the Santee Walgreens. An assistant manager with a badge reading “Rocky” said he was not allowed to talk to the press. We asked for contact information for a regional office. He offered to get the information for us and went in the back of the store. After ten minutes, when he had not returned, our editor had a clerk call back and provide him with our phone number, asking that he please call us with a regional number. We have not received a call.
The union protestors handed out flyers asking the public to call Walgreens at (847)914-2500 to ask that Walgreens change its policy to see that area labor standards are met for all of their construction work. However when ECM called that number, we got an automated recording asking for a department extension or an option to reach an operator. Three attempts at various times of day all failed to reach an operator or anyone at the corporate office, or even an answering machine where a message could be left. The “operator” option resulted in a phone ringing over a dozen times with no answer.
Walgreens is headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois at ( 847) 940-2500, for those who wish to voice an opinion at the national level. Top officers listed on the company website (which does not list e-mail addresses) are Alan McNally, chairman of the board, and Greg Wasson, president and chief executive officer.