A coalition of community groups led by the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP strongly criticized CVS Pharmacies yesterday, accusing the chain of failing to provide customers equal access to stores and services in Philadelphia.
At a news conference at NAACP headquarters in the 1900 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue, chapter president J. Whyatt Mondesire called CVS "a lousy corporate citizen," an accusation that the company strongly disputed.
Citing a yearlong study sponsored by Change to Win, a labor coalition of 6 million workers from seven major unions, Mondesire said the report showed "questionable product quality, overcharging, lax privacy protection, and consumer-safety issues" at CVS stores.
The report said that in the Philadelphia region, CVS operates 48 percent more stores in the wealthiest areas than in the least wealthy. There are one-third fewer CVS stores per person in communities with a majority of nonwhite residents than in communities that are mostly white, according to the report.
"Drugstore red-lining is a real problem," Mondesire said. "Health care is a critical issue in Philadelphia, and when people don't have access to get their prescriptions filled or get formula for their babies to take care of their basic needs, it does affect the way they live."
Lauren Townsend, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, said women make up 80 percent of the customer base at CVS stores "but women of color don't have the same access that white women do, because CVS has been closing stores in communities of color and opening up new stores in predominantly white communities."
Among the community groups in the coalition are the activist organization Health Care for America Now, Project HOME, Pennsylvania ACORN, the Women's Community Revitalization Project, the Friends Neighborhood Guild, and the Living Water United Church of Christ.
In addition to the news conference in Philadelphia, demonstrations took place outside CVS stores yesterday in New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston and other cities, organizers said.
In a statement, CVS Caremark said it respected the NAACP and its mission but disagreed with its assertions.
"We do not discriminate in our policies or store operations or tolerate discrimination of any kind in our organization. We will carefully review the information that has been released and contact the NAACP to follow up."
Without elaborating, CVS Caremark asserted that Change to Win was the force behind the allegations.
The company said that since 2007, Change to Win "has attempted to pressure CVS to deny our employees the full benefit of voting rights afforded to them under federal law. This 'report' and the accompanying media outreach is the latest attempt by CTW to achieve this objective."
Change to Win is a coalition of seven major unions established in 2005. It consists of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Laborers International Union of North America, Service Employees International, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, United Farm Workers of America, United Food and Commercial Workers International and Unite Here.
Asked why CVS was selected for the study, Mondesire said other pharmacy chains had not drawn as many complaints.
Despite the demonstrations in other cities, Mondesire said no protests were planned at Philadelphia-area CVS stores in the near future.