After a two-year battle, the workers at Rite Aid’s distribution center in Lancaster, CA won their fight to join International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 26. They won by 283 to 261, with 18 challenged ballots; 629 people were eligible to vote.
“I am so happy right now,’ said Ignacio “Nacho’ Meza, a member of the workers’ organizing committee at the warehouse. “We had to make sacrifices, but we showed that if we stand together, if we speak up, we can make changes for ourselves, our families and the people who come after us.’ Rite Aid fired Meza in January 2007 for his support of the union, but had to rehire him six months later as part of a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The workers at the Lancaster warehouse began organizing in March 2006. They wanted an end to mandatory overtime piled on ten-hour shifts and to punishing production quotas. They had enough of sweating through desert summers with no air conditioning in their work areas, and of working “at will’ with no job security.
The workers prevailed despite Rite Aid’s all-out effort to squash their organizing drive and the flaws in U.S. labor law.
A months-long investigation by the NLRB found enough evidence to try Rite Aid on 49 labor law violations. These included disciplining, demoting, suspending and firing union supporters; threatening that people would lose their raises if they voted for the union; and publicly disparaging union supporters. The company settled in May 2007 rather than face an NLRB judge.
In many ways, federal labor law makes it almost impossible for workers to organize. For example, the company has unlimited access to the workers. Union supporters can only talk organizing with their co-workers when they are all “off the clock.’ The union doesn’t even get a list of voters until 10 ’ 20 days before the election, and the list does not have to be complete. (ILWU).