CVS gripes reach the State House

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By CHRIS FARAONE  |  May 13, 2009

Change to Win (CtW) is no longer a mere pest buzzing in the ear of CVS management. After months of grassroots organizing and sidewalk pickets, delegates representing various of the more than one hundred groups that comprise the consumer-advocacy federation advanced their fight into the legislative realm last Thursday, in anticipation of upcoming House and Senate consumer-pricing hearings. For more than two hours, in hearing room A-1, speakers who have banded together under the name "Cure CVS" blasted the nation's largest drug-store chain for ripping off shoppers.

The activists — who have demonstrated their determination by commissioning embroidered CURE CVS windbreakers — brought damaging findings. According to the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business, between 2007 and 2008, CVS paid nearly $350,000 in fines for pricing-accuracy violations — more than 20 percent of the total for all Massachusetts retailers. Cure CVS operative Kate Titus claims that pending proposals like the Food Store Item Pricing Law are needed to prevent CVS from charging more at checkout than as advertised. "Overcharging and pricing accuracy are important for us," says Titus, "but those are just some issues that Change to Win has with CVS."

The Cure CVS offensive emerged in late 2008 with a laundry list of grievances, charging that the "retail-health-care colossus" "fails to protect" customers. The organization also accused CVS of operating significantly fewer stores in minority communities, of inexplicably locking up certain items — including condoms and baby formula — in those same neighborhoods, and of knowingly selling expired goods.

In correspondence with the Phoenix, and in a recent press statement, CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis denies malicious intent on his company's behalf. As for the prevalence of fines and expired items found on shelves, he chalks those up to inevitable human-workplace error, and accuses CtW of being a veiled union-organization effort. Five months in, though, it doesn't look like blanket rebuttals and minor concessions (CVS agreed to unlock condoms at stores in Roxbury and Dorchester) are enough to silence CtW bullhorns.

"The weather is really great this time of year," Union of Minority Neighborhoods Executive Director Horace Small said to about 100 followers at an April rally outside the CVS on Summer Street in Downtown Crossing. "Trust me, we'll be back."

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