Over 1,200 members of the New York New Jersey Regional Joint Board work at Duane Reade under a contract that expires this year. Through their contract, workers at Duane Reade have health insurance and access to the Union Health Center. As she and her colleagues prepare for negotiations, bargaining committee member Cynthia McLean talks about the importance of securing their medical benefits.
When Cynthia, who lives in the Bronx, first heard about it from a coworker at a meeting, she was surprised to hear that the Union had its own Health Center.
By her own account, she put off going to the Center for many years. It wasn’t until she started experiencing shortness of breath that she decided, with the encouragement of her boyfriend, to go get a routine checkup.
When she called, she had no problem getting an appointment. She was helped by Dr. Dyksterhouse who she described as “very attentive,” and who “really listened to what I had to say.”
He immediately ordered tests. The next day they called her at work, telling her they had found something wrong and that she should report to the nearest hospital for more tests.
After reporting to the hospital, the Health Center faxed her records over, even on a Saturday morning.
“Everything was so quick…you know, there was no hold up on anything.” Ultimately, her condition required surgery, and after the surgery her doctors were there to help coordinate her care. “The staff was great there; they’re very patient,” she recalls.
Cynthia has worked at Duane Reade for nearly seventeen years. Through the Union Health Center, Cynthia has accessed a full range of services from routine testing and physical exams, to help with referrals, and the follow up care after her surgery.
In her words, “I’m always recommending it to other coworkers and explaining that we are supposed to have a physical every year. It’s a great place to go. You don’t wait an hour to be seen….I’ve gone to the doctor after work. Which you’re not gonna always find that where you can make an appointment and actually go after work in the evening so that was also convenient, too….so, it’s been a great experience for me.”
Through the Union Health Center’s online portal, she has access to an even broader range of services. As she says, “Now I have online, where I can also let them know: I’m running out of this medicine, is it possible that I can get a refill? The communication is really great with them.”
At the same time, Cynthia knows that not all workers are in similar situations. “I’ve spoken to people that have no medical insurance at all,” she says, “They can’t get a primary care doctor.”
“When I came into Duane Reade,” she says, she was “surprised to hear we had a Union. But you know, your coworkers on the low are gonna tell you about it….then I had to learn how important and how effective a union can be.”
One way she saw that was when she was doing work for a higher paid position but not getting paid the appropriate amount. She had worked at two different Duane Reade stores before coming to her current store on 18th Street. When she started, she stepped up when another colleague in cosmetics left, but didn’t initially get paid accordingly. After filing a grievance, her pay was adjusted.
Now, as she and her coworkers get ready to bargain their contract, Cynthia is working on the bargaining committee. She was motivated to be on the committee, she says, because “We need to be heard. Like they say, I come with respect. I work hard. I’m dedicated as so many other people are. They give their all. I want [Duane Reade] to know. We have a lot of hard working people here that’s dedicated. Some are attending school and still coming to work. What are you presenting to us? I want you to hear us.”
Recognizing that participating in the bargaining takes a lot of work, I asked where she gets that strength come from. She said that on the one hand, she learned from previous experience participating in the PTA at her children’s school and from leadership groups she was a part of in high school. She talked about the importance of writing things down and being organized.
The other source of her strength, she said, is listening to her coworkers and her customers. “As an employee, I want us to be able to come in and be comfortable and get our job completed as we need to…and also make our customers comfortable, feel safe.”
Cynthia is but one of many members whose work builds and keeps our Union both strong and healthy.