SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Workers at Rite Aid's warehouse in Poca voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to reject a new contract offered by the company, but also decided to keep working while a contract is negotiated.
The vote, which took place at the union hall of Teamsters Local 175 in South Charleston, was 182 to 5 to reject the company's contract. One ballot was not marked. Currently, the Teamsters have 220 members working at the Poca warehouse.
The vote on Sunday also authorized an immediate strike against Rite Aid, which could have begun as soon as Monday.
Ken Hall, President of Local 175 and General Secretary-Treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, told his members after the vote, that the strike was not their only option.
"We could notify the company we want to go back to the bargaining table. We want to continue working and we want to continue negotiating," Hall said. "If the company prevents that, it is a lockout."
In a voice vote at the union hall, Rite Aid workers then voted unanimously to continue going to work while trying to negotiate a better contract.
Before the voice vote, Hall said it "would be a very wise decision " to continue negotiations.
Ashley Flower, a Rite Aid spokeswoman, said that the declined contract was not their final offer and they would continue negotiations.
"Rite Aid has and will continue to bargain in good faith," Flower said in an email statement. "We look forward to getting back to the bargaining table and doing the hard work necessary to reach an agreement that is fair to everyone."
Hall said that the new contract proposed by the company, "would freeze pensions, wipe out employee health insurance and allow Rite Aid to hire non-union workers."
Hall suggested the possibility of a public relations campaign against Rite Aid management if they do not continue to negotiate.
"Rite Aid is a public company that sells to local consumers," Hall said, "What we need to get on our side is the general public."
Union negotiators, Hall said are willing to make some compromises.
"We're not going to have non-union people in there. But we will deal with other issues," Hall said, particularly in the area of health care.
Currently, Rite Aid pays for 100 percent of all medical costs incurred by its employees at the Poca plant, under the contract that just expired.
"If you think you will be able to keep 100 percent health coverage, I don't think that will happen," Hall said. "Let's focus on some compromises in health insurance.
"We want the company to come back to the table and be reasonable.'"
After the meeting, Hall talked about the importance of modernizing the warehouse in Poca.
"We need a new warehouse," Hall said. "The warehouse is outdated, losing efficiency. The company wants to make up for that by taking everything away from employees.
"Part of the solution is to fix the warehouse or build a new facility, maybe in a new location."
Hall said he has discussed these problems with state leaders.
"The governor and other elected officials have already committed themselves to helping us work with Rite Aid to bring more jobs here by remodeling or moving to a new facility," Hall said."We are going to show up to work tomorrow," Hall added. "If they lock you out, we will be there. Now, the ball is in the company's court."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.