CVS distribution workers choose to unionize
by Kendall Wright | Patterson Irrigator
Aug 26, 2010 | 6152 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Teamsters Union Chapter 386 were out in force Wednesday, Aug. 18, before the union elections at the CVS distribution center in Patterson. In a close vote, 310-259, workers decided to join the union.--photo by Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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Spurred by the chance for affordable health benefits and gaining more respect on the job, employees at the CVS/pharmacy distribution center in Patterson voted to unionize during an election last week, a labor representative with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said.

The proposition was held to a vote for the first time among the center’s eligible employees Wednesday, Aug. 18. The final vote yielded 310 in favor of joining to 259 opposed, said Ormar Locklear, an organizer with the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union. All the center’s 613 workers will now be covered by the labor union, making the distribution center the largest in Stanislaus County to join a union, surpassing WinCo Foods in Modesto, he said.

“If it wasn’t for the people at CVS who felt so passionate about getting organized, I guarantee this never would have happened,” Locklear said. “It was a very emotional vote, with lots of tears of joy once it was over.

“I’m proud of everyone over there that stood up for what they deserved.”

The road to unionizing with the Teamsters began about two years ago, when Locklear and other Local 386 chapter members began campaigning for the cause. Locklear said he decided to postpone the election until August so he could educate workers and gain further support.

“I made at least 200 house calls to sit down and educate these employees about what a union could do for them,” he said. “It was amazing how little they knew and how misled they were when it came to their rights.”

Maria Garcia, a CVS employee for three years, said she was sold on the idea to unionize as soon as Locklear told her and her co-workers about how the Teamsters could negotiate for more affordable health benefits.

“It really opened my eyes when he told us about workers at a CVS center near (Los Angeles) who were doing the same kind of jobs we were doing and getting their health benefits for hundreds of dollars cheaper a month,” Garcia said. “We wanted that option, too.”

People who work at the Patterson center on average pay $300 to $400 per month for health insurance, while the CVS/pharmacy distribution center employees who unionized with the Teamsters near L.A. pay about $40 per month for the same coverage, Locklear said.

But for other employees, including one who asked for anonymity to avoid retribution before the contract is negotiated, organizing with the union was a way to demand more respect from management, as well as gain a watchdog to review the company’s actions.

“A lot of us were unhappy with the way we were being treated by the managers,” the employee said. “We were given less and less time to do the same jobs, and then punished if we couldn’t get them done on time. Managers would mislead us by promising us raises, and then turn around and not follow through.

“Some places don’t need a union, but when push came to shove here, ours needed one.”

The next step in finalizing the change will be to petition company leaders to meet with labor representatives and begin the process of negotiating details of job security, affordable health benefits and increased wages in a new contract, Locklear said.

“The main obstacle to overcome in this was the fear of the unknown, but I think they’ve gotten past that,” he said. “We’re looking forward to helping them achieve what they deserve from now on.”

Contact Kendall Wright at 892-6187 or kendall@pattersonirrigator.com.

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