A City Council committee gave the nod yesterday to legislation allowing customers to demand an on-the-spot 50 percent discount if they catch a store selling expired products such as baby formula or food, milk, eggs and nonprescription drugs.
Mayor Nutter's administration sent three top officials to testify - though not in complete agreement - concerning the legislation in a hearing of the Committee on Public Health and Human Services.
Health Commissioner Donald Schwartz and Deputy Commerce Director Duane Bumb praised the legislation's intent but raised concerns about how it would impact small stores in the city.
Lance Haver, from the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs, offered strong support.
Schwartz said that his department would need to hire more staff to enforce the law, and worried that some savvy scammers could use it to cheat smaller stores by returning products that expired after they bought them. He suggested limiting the legislation to large retailers with bar code scanner equipment that can be used to track when purchases are made.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez has championed the issue of expired goods, backed by members of "Cure CVS."
Cure CVS is part of Change To Win, a coalition of seven labor unions that has challenged the chain on how union elections are held at stores and how it administers drug plans for unions.
Joanna Bouldin, of Cure CVS, brought to Council a basket of expired products that she said were purchased at the chain's stores in the city. The group in December released a report on expired products found for sale in CVS stores.
"They're a giant company," Bouldin told Council members. "They make tons of money. They should be able to take care of this problem. And they haven't."
Bouldin conceded that her group has not studied Rite Aid or other drug store chains. She later said that CVS labor practices do not motivate her group's scrutiny of the chain's stores.
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the group tries to "disparage" the company due to the labor disputes. DeAngelis added that the chain has a clear policy on removing expired products.
"Because the typical CVS store has more than 100,000 items on its shelves, oversights may sometimes occur," he said. "However, whenever we discover an expired product, we move quickly to correct the situation."
Sanchez and Haver were quick to note that the legislation does not single out CVS but applies to all stores. Sanchez said that Nutter's staff supports a 50 percent discount for customers who find expired goods in stores but balked at a requirement for stores to refund money and sell unexpired goods at the 50 percent discount for customers who make purchases and return later.
It is against federal law to sell expired goods, but Haver noted that there are no remedies available to consumers beyond exchanging the goods or getting a refund.
"What this does is give the consumer the ability to seek immediate remediation," Sanchez said.