by Prerna Jagadeesh and Libby Rainey
After months of negotiations, CVS workers in Southern California have won a new contract with CVS Health that increases their pay and the affordability of their health care, makes their workplace safer, and improves their working conditions.
CVS Health, the seventh largest company in the United States, made a record $7 billion in profits in 2020. However, these profits did not trickle down to the workers. More Perfect Union spoke with CVS workers in Southern California who described being assaulted by anti-maskers, seeing fellow workers die from COVID, and making poverty wages.
“We need money,” says Sophia Parades, a CVS worker in Southern California. “We need to support our families. We have our kids at school. We need to work. We need to buy supplies, food… everything is expensive and [the amount] they’re paying is not enough.”
Even though its workers administer vaccines and coronavirus tests to millions, CVS previously offered workers a meager 21 cents in hazard pay and paid them an average of just $11 an hour. Additionally, a lack of adequate staffing in CVS stores forced workers to maintain a breakneck pace.
Multiple CVS workers reported catching COVID-19 on the job, but said that CVS looked the other way. “I was the first [worker in my store] to get COVID,” says CVS worker Monica Montezoca. “They [should have] set something up quickly to help me out. But they didn’t. And I’ve been working with them for five years. I think that that’s the very least I deserve.”
Others reported being harassed and assaulted at work for enforcing mask mandates. “I’ve had people associated with my store die of COVID. My boss’s mother died. I’ve had cashier’s family members die,” said CVS worker Jeff Hall. “[COVID deaths of workers and close family] have happened at every CVS in the area. It’s probably happened in every store in the nation, and yet CVS will not acknowledge the problem.”
When their previous contract with CVS expired earlier this year, Southern California CVS workers with UFCW decided it was time to demand more from their billionaire employer. At the beginning of the bargaining sessions, CVS offered them a meager $0.05 wage increase. In protest of this proposal, workers began demonstrating outside CVS stores with signs and inside them with stickers to show their solidarity. CVS employees who were part of the bargaining committee that directly negotiated with CVS said these actions were a key turning point in their negotiations with CVS management.
The new contract represents a significant step forward. It will give workers pay increases of around 10 percent over 3 years, lower health care deductibles, and increased vision and dental benefits. It also stipulates that a minimum of two employees must be scheduled to work in CVS stores while they are open, in order to keep staff from having to work multiple people’s jobs at once. Additionally, the new contract creates a Health and Safety Committee and provides safety training on paid time.
Workers are hopeful that their new contract will enable them to keep providing the service that has made CVS the face of America’s fight against the pandemic.
“There’s nobody who works for CVS that doesn’t want this company to succeed, but we would like to see them share some of that success,” said Jeff Hall. “That success was built on our hard work. It’s built on us risking our lives every day.”