Bangor Rite Aid protest highlights Calif. labor issue

Posted April 02, 2009, at 7:59 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Rite Aid pharmacy at the corner of Union and Fourteenth streets doesn’t have anything to do with a situation between workers trying to organize a union and management at a Rite Aid distribution center in Lancaster, Calif.

The Bangor location, however, was the site of a protest by two local labor groups who were attempting to draw attention to both the situation in California and what the groups see as the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

About 25 members of University of Maine-based Wildcat Student Labor Action Project, and the Brewer-based group Food AND Medicine stood on the sidewalk along Union Street with signs, literature and chanting slogans such as “Our rights, right now, Rite Aid” and “Don’t make the workers wait, management negotiate.”

“We are not anti-business. We are pro-worker,” said Steve Husson, a local labor advocate. “We are here to support the workers from Rite Aid who have been trying for over a year to get a contract. … This is something that shouldn’t have to happen. If people want to use their legal right to unionize, it should be easy.”

Will Rice, the secretary of Food AND Medicine, said the protest was meant to call attention. Supporters say the controversial Employee Free Choice Act will make it easier for employees to unionize.

“It’s a national issue and it has a national potential national cure, and that is the Employee Free Choice Act,” Rice said. “… It would prevent employers like Rite Aid [from] stalling, dragging their feet, not negotiating in good faith.”

The protesters were at the Bangor Rite Aid for about 40 minutes.

In addition to Maine, protests also were planned Thursday for Rite Aid locations in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and other states, according to a release from Food AND Medicine.

“We have been bargaining in good faith with the [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] local representing our distribution center in Lancaster, Calif., and will continue to do so until we reach an agreement that’s fair to all parties,” said Cheryl Slavinksy, the Rite Aid director of public relations. “However it takes both parties to reach an agreement.”

The Fourteenth and Union location is not a union store, Slavinksy added.

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