In Los Angeles County, not all condom buyers are created equal, allege some community activists.
Members of the group Cure CVS say they conducted a survey last week of 45 Los Angeles County CVS stores, and found 11 stores kept their condoms in a locked case. All those stores were located in east LA neighborhoods with a high population of Latinos and people of color, while stores in more affluent neighborhoods did not keep their condoms under wraps.
Protesters say keeping condoms under lock and key stigmatizes condom use by forcing customers to ask store employees for help.
"This is an injustice that certain neighborhoods have access to condoms and others don't, and we're here to tell CVS that this has to stop," said activist Christine Lee at a protest Tuesday outside a Lincoln Heights CVS store.
"In HIV prevention, communities of color, women and young people need a partner in prevention, not another insensitive corporate giant. CVS should be called to answer for its practices," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
CVS officials shot back, saying the condoms are locked up at stores where shoplifting has been reported.
Protesters didn't agree with the retail chain's rationale.
"I think it's about discrimination. I think it's about racism. I think it's about elitism," said Richard Zaldivar of The Wall - Las Memorias Project, a group dedicated to helping Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS.
But behind this latex dust-up may be some union politics, L.A. Weekly reported:
"This campaign," corporate spokesman Mike DeAngelis told the L.A. Weekly, "is being waged by a labor union that had threatened to 'expose' us in the press if we refused to violate our employees rights by having union election that wasn't fair and secret."
Indeed, the Change to Win coalition of unions includes the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been attempting to organize CVS workers. Change to Win is the force behind Cure CVS, a national campaign that has very publicly accused the pharmacy chain of selling out-of-date goods, maintaining unsanitary facilities and locking up condoms in minority neighborhoods.
Gina Bowers, a spokeswoman for Change to Win, denied accusations of union-organizing, L.A. Weekly reported.
"We're not organizing CVS drug stores. This is about CVS drug stores being responsible to the communities in which they operate. They are the largest pharmacy chain in the country -- what they do matters," Bowers told newspaper.