Workers at Rite Aid's Southwest Distribution Center in Lancaster were able to earn a major labor victory this week by reaching a tentative three-year deal with management that will raise wages in each of the next three years, improve health care coverage, protect their jobs from subcontractors looking drop the bottom out on wages, and improve safety conditions at the warehouse. More than 500 workers in the economically troubled city of Lancaster will receive these benefits.
Workers at the Rite Aid facility voted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in June of 2008. But it would be another 3 years before their demands were actually met, as Rite Aid used every stall tactic in the book to break the union and force concessions from workers, who were struggling to make due in the crumbling economy. Lancaster was and continues to be among the hardest hit cities in the nation after the country's economic collapse. In 2010 the unemployment rate was 17% as the city shed more than 6% of its jobs. Foreclosure rates are among the highest in L.A. County. In a city with just over 150,000 people, Lancaster trails only L.A., Long Beach and neighboring Palmdale in the total number of foreclosures in the first quarter of 2011.
For workers to fight and hold out as long as they did was a brave and risky thing to do. As public sector unions have suddenly and inexplicably become the fall guys for the nations economic collapse, deals like the one reached by Rite Aid workers have become virtually nonexistent. The L.A. City Council approved a deal last week that would make 13,000 workers forgo previously agreed on salary raises and pay an additional 4% of their salary to retirement healthcare plans. So far, no agreement has been reached with the city's various unions.
The situation of the poor and working class in America has gotten so bad that even Wal-Mart is complaining Americans don't have enough money to shop in its stores.
Meanwhile in Lancaster, improved health insurance coverage for workers will likely shift the burden away from county medical facilities, which often get stiffed when underpaid workers show up at their door unable to afford care. And with guaranteed wage increases and job security, workers are better equipped to make large purchases like homes and automobiles that form the backbone of L.A. County's economy.
Inexplicably, the Rite Aid union deal hasn't received much attention in the media. But make no mistake, this was an important victory for the quality of life of L.A. County workers. Here's hoping other workers across the Southland follow suit and fight for fair treatment.
The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the Cailfornia Endowment.