Oak Hill Capital Partners, L.P. will buy the Manhattan-based chain for $16.50 a share in an acquisition that should be finalized on July 30, privatizing the company, according to a company release.For months, Local 338 has assailed the pharmacy giant with a blistering protest campaign, dubbing it "Dwayne Greed" and staging protests in front of its Jamaica and Elmhurst stores. Nearly 100 members of the retail, wholesale and department store union rallied Monday across from a company distribution center at the corner of 55th Avenue and 50th Street as shareholders met inside. The crowd chanted beneath two giant, inflatable rats representing corporate greed and carried signs reading "Tell Duane Reade: Negotiate Now! Call Their CEO - Anthony Cuti 212- 273-5700.""What do we want?" A speaker shouted through a megaphone?"Contracts!" The crowd responded."When do we want it?" He asked."Now!" They said. The union, which represents 2,600 Duane Reade employees at 142 stores, is demanding millions in back benefits and salary increases for the workers, said Union President John R. Durso. In February, a federal judge found that the company owed its workers $25 million in unpaid union benefits related to the contract brokered in August 2001. The dispute has affected the company's acquisition price, U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) told an Elmhurst protest earlier this month. It fell from nearly $18.50 a share last August to the $16 range, where it is still trading on the New York Stock Exchange.Durso said the company, which has 250 stores throughout the city, severed employee contracts 30 months ago, taking their pensions, vacations, and health benefits. "Workers can't afford to buy their drugs there," Durso said. "That's not the way people should have to live." Company spokeswoman Cara O'Brien did not return repeated calls for comment.Durso said the union owns several shares of the company, allowing him to sit on in the stockholders Ômeeting. He said security was tight, and the meeting was attended by only five shareholders, representing 17 million of its 24 million shares. They voted 15 million shares in favor of selling the company to 2 million shares against, he said. "Oak Hill Capital partners, Duane Reade and its shareholders will all benefit from this sale," Durso said. "We simply ask that (the company) affords the dignity and respect these workers deserve and give them what they've earned Ñ a fair contract."Reach reporter Matthew Monks at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156, or by e-mail at news@times
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