Snyders Drug Stores, a fixture in Minnesota’s retail landscape since the 1940s, announced it will cease operations Jan. 21, closing eight stores in the East Metro area and leaving 150 workers without jobs.
|Snyders was the only unionized drug store in the Twin Cities.
Photo by Michael Moore
The union that represents those workers, Local 789 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, is scrambling to soften the blow to its members.
“We are saddened, angry and committed in making sure that our members are properly treated during the closure,” Local 789 President Don Seaquist said.
So far, though, the union is not getting much help from Snyders in that effort.
Upon learning of Snyders’ plans, the union immediately asked the company to honor the WARN Act, a federal law that requires employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of mass layoffs or closings. The union also asked for the company’s assistance in providing workers a bridge to health care benefits.
According to Local 789’s Bernie Hesse, Snyders denied both requests.
Hesse said management told the union the WARN Act doesn’t apply to small retail outfits – an opinion Hesse admits has some precedence – and said it was not required to extend COBRA benefits, supplemental health insurance workers can acquire after they are laid off, to the union’s members because it is ceasing operations permanently.
While Snyders may be in the right legally, Hesse said, “on both issues, we’re saying it’s the employer’s moral obligation to give these workers notice in a timely way.”
The decision to close Snyders, which is owned by the Katz Group, a Canadian mail-order prescription operation, came as a surprise to the union.
Last year, in response to increased competition from CVS and Walgreens, Snyders closed several Minnesota locations. Hesse said the closings led him to believe “they were going to make a go of it” against the larger drug store chains.
“We were encouraged,” Hesse said. “They were running fliers in the newspaper, bringing inventory into the stores. We felt they were going to be a presence in the market.
“But the management team for Snyders decided they can make more money if they sell the script off to Walgreens and fold up. They said, ‘Let’s go while the getting is good.’
“Unfortunately, workers are sacrificed in that process. The market’s pretty cruel.”
Workers affected by Snyders’ decision include pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and clerks, many of whom have been working for Snyders for decades.
“It’s the senior clerks that worry me the most,” Hesse said. “A lot of them are older women who’ve been there for three or four decades. They’re going to be hard pressed to find another job.”
Ultimately, Hesse added, workers won’t be the only ones who lose in Snyders’ decision to close shop. As Walgreens and CVS increase their stranglehold on the market, consumers will lose too.
“The more of these chains that are knocked out, the less competitive the market becomes,” he said. “At some point, the consumers are going to pay the price.”
The union is planning a public campaign to pressure the Katz Group “to do the right thing,” Hesse said, and to compel Walgreens to hire some of Snyders’ workers.
Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at the federation’s website.