J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, stood yesterday with a coalition of activists and blasted the drugstore chain CVS as "a lousy corporate citizen."
"We believe that health care in Philadelphia, right after violence against our children, is the Number One issue facing our city," Mondesire said in a news conference inside NAACP headquarters at 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
"And we want to make it emphatically clear, after a yearlong study, that CVS is a lousy corporate citizen."
With Mondesire were members of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, Healthcare for America Now and Pennsylvania ACORN.
His characterization of CVS was based on findings in a nationwide study commissioned by Change to Win, a partnership of seven unions with more than six million members.
The study, titled "Cure CVS: From high prices to low quality, CVS is failing our communities," was conducted in Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, south Florida, Baltimore/Washington and Los Angeles.
The report says that CVS has unfair pricing policies and substandard products and services, compromises patient privacy and puts profits ahead of the well-being of customers.
CVS, with more than 6,800 stores nationwide, also was taken to task in the report for its business practices in poor and minority neighborhoods.
The report, available online at www.CURECVSNow.org, says that Boston has almost three times as many CVS stores in white neighborhoods as in minority neighborhoods.
It says that in the six major urban markets surveyed, CVS tends to lock up items - including condoms - in poor neighborhoods, but leaves those items open for browsing in stores in white, more-affluent neighborhoods.
"It's about discrimination and subpar service, and it's rampant with this large chain drugstore," said NOW spokeswoman Lauren Townsend, adding that 80 percent of CVS consumers are women. "In communities of color, CVS locks up condoms. They don't lock up condoms in white communities.
"In six cities that were surveyed," Townsend said, "CVS locks up condoms in more than half the areas with the highest concentration of people of color, but never in communities that are predominantly white."
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the study's findings were based on inaccurate or outdated information.
"We do not discriminate in our policies or store operations, or tolerate discrimination of any kind in our organization," DeAngelis said, adding that CVS is either first or second in market share in eight of the 10 markets with the highest minority populations.
In a comparison of two CVS stores last night, the Daily News found varying milk prices and condom displays.
A store at 6100 Harbison Avenue in Mayfair - a largely white and middle-class neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia - a gallon of Lehigh Valley milk was selling for $3.99, and condoms were on unlocked display.
But the CVS at Broad Street and Girard Avenue - an inner-city location - was selling the same container of milk for 20 cents more, at $4.19, and condoms were locked up.
"All CVS stores sell condoms that are unlocked and accessible," DeAngelis said.
"In a small percentage of our stores where condom products have been heavily shoplifted, a majority of such products are kept in a locked display to ensure there is stock available for customers to purchase. Decisions to do this are based on theft experience, not ethnicity."
Mondesire said he expects CVS to respond appropriately to the report.