when literally thousands of community, immigrant, and minority groups unite to protest
one titanic corporation? In the case of CVS Caremark versus the extraordinarily
encompassing Change to Win consumer advocacy force, we’ll have to wait and see.
So far it
appears that both sides are prepared for more than just a street fight. The
claims waged by Change to Win – that CVS policies are negligent, predatory, and
discriminatory – are serious ones. And while the pharmacy behemoth has faced harsh
allegations before, execs might have met their best-organized opponent yet.
affiliates did in other major cities, this morning, in a conference room above
Downtown Crossing, Boston
representatives from Change to Win, the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Jobs with Justice, Community Labor
United (CLU), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA)
coalition stepped up on their soap boxes.
On the table beside
them, activists had piles of expired products that they claim to have bought at
Boston CVS stores this week. The organizers were noticeably riled but also composed;
after months of researching and calculating this full-steam offensive, it was time
Director Darlene Lombos, who arrived with her under-the-weather newborn
strapped to her chest, blasted CVS Caremark for keeping MinuteClinics out of
immigrant locales. Jobs with Justice organizer Russ Davis took it further: “We’re
putting CVS on notice,” he said. “We intend to hold them accountable.”
There are far
too many allegations leveled in Change to Win’s report to mention them all here.
Researchers packed a lot of damning and disturbing stuff in the 48-page
document; from the chain’s reluctance to put 24-hour stores in communities of
color, to how CVS blocks condom access in those same neighborhoods.
It must have
felt refreshing for these folks to finally lash out. I’ve been calling Change
to Win since November for a sneak peek at this report, and they’ve been hush.
Unfortunately, though, for them, CVS got an early whiff and concocted a defense.
In a statement
that begins “CVS Caremark respects the history and mission of the NAACP,” Spokesman
Michael DeAngelis countered: “The allegation that we concentrate stores in
white neighborhoods compared to our competitors is simply untrue;” and “Our
policy is to remove items before the expiration date.”
Among other statements,
DeAngelis also trumpeted the age-old CVS response about their disproportionate
affixing of black products with anti-theft devices: “We carry a variety of
ethnic products in our stores and ethnicity plays no role in loss-prevention
procedures…The fact is that products are given security tags based on theft
This won’t be an
easy battle for either side. For CVS, there’s the possibility that consumers might
start paying attention for once (though that’s unlikely). For Change to Win,
there’s the inevitable irony that comes from complaining about CVS while at the
same time asking for more stores.
hopefully this bout will attract heavy press. Especially around here, as CVS
started in Lowell as a convenience store back in 1963, and currently operates
its customer service department out of Rhode Island. Certainly, there should be
an element of hometown shame kicking around.
To their credit –
the Boston Globe has been on this
story for months. In an excellent August 16 article titled “The price is right –
mostly,” correspondent Mitch Lipka dropped some shocking numbers: “CVS Caremark
corp., the nation’s biggest pharmacy chain, was fined more than $275,000 since
January 2007 for nearly 2,800 alleged violations of Massachusetts rules on pricing accuracy – by
far the most penalized of any retailer in the state.”
While CVS will
likely dismiss Change to Win and continue paying fines and penalties, there
might be too much evidence here for them to play dumb. In the least, this united
front and large-scale approach should get do-gooders some leverage at the
But the rest is
up to everyone who Change to Win ultimately represents. Will people rise
against CVS (or at least pursue further lines of inquiry), or will this hard
work devolve into something like the left’s never ending war against Wal-Mart?