Grassroots pharmacist walk outs spread in response to complaints over working conditions

Pharmacists at CVS and Walgreens have walked out in cities across the nation.

By Sarah AschNovember 2, 2023 11:22 am, ,

More than 2,000 U.S. pharmacists began to walk off the job this week to pressure national drugstore chains to address poor working conditions. 

Dubbed “pharmageddon” by some, the walkouts follow similar actions last month by CVS pharmacists in Kansas City, Mo.

Fiona Rutherford, who covers health care for Bloomberg, said it is hard to say how Texas may have already been affected by walkouts — or may be going forward. 

“What we do know from what organizers have said is that thousands of pharmacists across the country have expressed interest in taking action like this, whether that’s walking out of their store, not turning up for work, calling in sick or even rallies outside of CVS and Walgreens HQ,” she said. “It is a possibility that Texas stores could be affected by these actions. But I also think it’s important to note that this is really just the beginning of the actions from the pharmacies that are not part of the union.”

The walkouts are a grassroots effort by employees and aren’t being organized by a formal union effort, she said. 

“Organization has happened through Reddit forums, Facebook pages, WhatsApp. They’re just really coming together to plan action, not part of a union at all,” Rutherford said. “One of the organizers told me last week, which I think is really important here, is that the fact that so many pharmacy workers are willing to take action without the backing of a union speaks volumes to how desperate the situation really is for them.

Unions were even caught by surprise by these actions. And it seems like they are having initial conversations or discussions about ways they can support these pharmacists. And it does seem like the perfect opportunity for unions to jump in at this point.”

Rutherford said the pharmacists’ main complaint is a lack of staffing making their jobs more difficult. 

“Pharmacists I’ve spoken to said they’re completely burned out and overworked. They have a huge backlog of prescriptions to fill every day,” she said. “On top of that, they have patient consultations that they need to do, vaccine appointments, and most of the time it’s just one pharmacist per store, which caught me by surprise. I didn’t realize that it was just one pharmacist handling all that work.”

Pharmacy technicians also help with the workload, but workers say it’s not enough. 

“It isn’t really about pay, as many people initially thought. It’s just more staffing because they feel like the conditions that they’re working under has created a really stressful environment. They’re scared of making mistakes. They’re not able to talk to patients about their medications properly because they’re always thinking about what’s the next task I have to do,” she said.

“Meanwhile, they say that the corporate performance metrics are putting additional pressure on them. There are phone wait times, there are quotas they have to fill. And all of this has kind of reached a tipping point. So that’s why they’re taking action and demanding more staff.”

The big name pharmacy companies — Walgreens and CVS — have said patient safety is their main priority. 

“They are in constant dialog with the pharmacists,” Rutherford said. “They’ve also continued to say that they’ve invested billions over the past two years in wages and in automation to try and free up pharmacist’s time throughout the day. But none of these things have addressed what the pharmacists are calling for. And so it seems like until that happens, the walkouts and the actions will continue to take place until the companies address these concerns.”

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