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Boro Duane Reade stores draw fire from retail union

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The news conference, held outside the Duane Reade at Archer Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard, was the first stop in Queens for the "Dwayne Greed" campaign started by Local 338, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Workers, which charges the company has the most expensive prices for prescription drugs, particularly at its stores in minority and low-income communities.

The drugstore company also drew outrage because it has not negotiated a new contract with workers for two years, said John Durso, president of Local 338, a Rego Park-based union.

Duane Reade has at least 26 stores in Queens communities, including Bayside, Jamaica, Rego Park, Maspeth and Flushing, as well as a warehouse in Maspeth.

"Duane Reade has shown over and over again that they are a bad neighbor to the people who live and work in Queens," Durso said. "We came to Jamaica today, to the people who work hard for a living and deserve to be able to buy the medication they need for their families."

Duane Reade has denied both the price and the labor allegations.

"Local 338 continues to publish lies and half-truths about Duane Reade," the company said in a statement.

A report by state Assemblyman Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) found that Duane Reade charged more than other chain and independent pharmacies in the city for a selection of 10 popular prescriptions, including Zoloft, Viagra, Lipitor and Celebrex. The report also found that the company had the largest disparity in price among individual stores, and the highest costs were found in minority and low-income communities, Klein said.

"Duane Reade was by far the worst in every category," Klein said at Friday's news conference. "They charge the most for prescriptions and they discriminate against communities of color."

The study found that of eight of the Duane Reade stores that had the highest drug prices, a majority of the locations were in heavily minority zip codes.

"It is wrong that Duane Reade has decided to take advantage of the people of Jamaica and this city by charging more for prescription drugs based on skin color and economic background," said state Sen. Ada Smith (D-Jamaica).

Duane Reade has called Klein's report "grossly inaccurate," according to a company statement.

"Duane Reade has standardized prescription pricing across all five New York City boroughs and has been recognized as the low-priced leader in the prescription market," the statement said.

The company has also refused to negotiate with representatives from Local 338, who say they have the support of the store employees. The workers have not had a contract in nearly three years, Durso said. They are seeking better pay than the minimum wage many employees receive, benefits and protection, he said.

The company said the employees voted against joining Local 338, but the union claims the National Labor Board appointed it to represent the store employees.

"Local 338 does not have anything whatsoever to do with Duane Reade's employees," the statement said. "The fact remains that Local 338 has never had any legal affiliation or contract with Duane Reade."

Local 338 has held rallies in Manhattan to call attention to the problems and Friday's event marked the first in Queens, Durso said. Community leaders are demanding the drugstore treat its customers and its employees better, said Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park).

"We have to tell them, 'let's get in line or let's move out and get someone else in who will treat us right,'" Cook said. "If Duane Reade does not improve, they will have to go from this prosperous business district."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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