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NLRB Accuses Thrifty of Labor Law Violations : Workers: Complaint alleges that the drugstore chain illegally implemented a program to force pharmacists into management positions.

January 04, 1994|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thrifty Drug Stores violated federal labor law by cutting working hours and otherwise punishing union pharmacists who refused to accept newly created management jobs, the National Labor Relations Board alleged Monday.

The charges, which are being contested by Thrifty, stemmed from complaints filed by the three Southern California union locals representing pharmacists at the chain.

The dispute was triggered by Thrifty's decision last fall to put managers--who are not covered by the company's contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers union--in charge of pharmacy operations at many of its nearly 500 stores in California.

Thrifty, with more drugstores in the state than any other retailer, employs 1,200 full- and part-time pharmacists, more than 1,000 of whom are union members.

In complaints to the labor board, union officials contended that Thrifty retaliated against union pharmacists who turned down the company's offers to become pharmacy managers by eliminating their overtime hours. In addition, the union officials said, some union pharmacists who had worked at particular stores for years were forced to start shuttling between two or three stores.

Following a two-month investigation, the NLRB decided to charge the company. A complaint filed by the agency accused the company of "unilaterally implementing" the pharmacy manager program, leading to loss of overtime and "the imposition of more onerous work assignments."

Said Andrea Zinder, research director for Local 770 of the UFCW: "We're pleased that the NLRB has recognized that Thrifty is abusing these pharmacists and has coerced them in violation of their rights" to leave the union.

But Chris Bement, a Thrifty executive vice president, said Monday that he was "very confident" the case will be dismissed if the firm gets a fair hearing before an administrative law judge April 5.

The union contract, Bement said, gives the chain the right to install pharmacy managers, eliminate overtime hours and transfer employees. He denied that any action was taken to punish pharmacists who rejected job offers.

"Where are all those poor employees who are being abused?" Bement asked. "We have pharmacists standing in line for those pharmacy manager positions."

According to Bement, Thrifty pharmacy managers draw base salaries of about $80,000 to $95,000 and can earn as much as $15,000 more in bonuses if their operations meet profit goals. Union pharmacists, he said, work up to 45 hours a week and earn close to $75,000.

Union pharmacists may not want to become managers because in those roles they have to work longer hours without getting overtime pay, and lose protection of their union contract and union work rules.

The union complaints have come mainly from Los Angeles County, where roughly 150 union pharmacists are working under a three-year contract that expires in July, 1995, Bement said.

The executive said Thrifty created the pharmacy manager jobs to compete more effectively against other drugstore chains.

Bement contends that the union locals object to the plan because they fear losing members and union dues.

Zinder countered that the pharmacists "do not want to leave the union, but they are being coerced into it." The union's complaints, she said, are not "just a numbers game. It's a matter of protecting the people we represent."

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