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Pharmacy walkouts lead to beginnings of pharmacy union
Roger Selvage 6146

Pharmacy walkouts lead to beginnings of pharmacy union

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Work Force

Mickie Cathers

A phamacist burdened with a "low energy" battery.

During the fall of 2023, pharmacy personnel staged walkouts at Walgreens and CVS stores citing unhealthy and unjust working conditions that put patient safety at risk. These protests by pharmacists and pharmacy personnel, which also included pharmacy labor advocates, led to the launch of the Pharmacy Guild, a formal unionization effort for pharmacy workers.

In response to the walkouts, companies such as Walgreens and CVS have said they are committed to developing sustainable action plans to support both pharmacists and patients. However, the pace of change can be slow.

“I absolutely value and support the work of our associations in this battle to improve working conditions. But the recent walkout events have proven that pharmacists and technicians needed a protective voice when standing up to fight for themselves and their patients,” said Bled Tanoe, PharmD, founder of #PizzaIsNotWorking and union advocate. “Having the support of a union will probably ensure a strong hold in fighting for better working conditions.”

The Pharmacy Guild is an organization of pharmacy professionals focused on changes to staffing and workload standards as well as legislative and regulatory action to ensure safe patient care. It is an independent effort affiliated with IAM Healthcare, a union of health care professionals, working with grassroots leaders and pharmacy professionals to organize with true collective power and accountability.

Patients first

Patients may not have any idea about what’s happening behind the counter, or what other responsibilities a pharmacist has taken on.

“There is a unique bond between patients and their local pharmacists,” said Tanoe. “I believe pharmacists need to be honest with patients with the struggles they are facing. The lack of awareness from patients leads to assumptions and blame shifting toward our pharmacists and technicians who are desperately trying to serve their communities.”

Motivated by patient safety

“So many pharmacy professionals are taking action right now in every region of the country because we know our patients deserve better,” said Maurice Shaw, PharmD. “We must be their advocate. Our union will ensure we have a seat at the table to do that.”

Shaw, who is the founder of RXComedy, a humor podcast on YouTube, said the most impactful thing any pharmacy professional can do right now to help patients is to stand up and organize for change with coworkers.

Unsafe working environments, stores closing, budgets shrinking, public harassment from agitated and frustrated customers, and uncompromising performance metrics—such as how quickly they answered the phone or the number of prescriptions filled for 90 days—has created a powder keg of pharmacists suffering from anxiety, stress, and pressure, which has had a direct impact on patient care.

“When we’re forced to work at unsafe speeds in environments where our quotas and workload far outstrip what’s safe, those dangerous staffing levels inside create huge risks for our patients from delays in being able to fill patients’ lifesaving medications in a timely manner, up to the risk of serious or even fatal medical errors,” said Shaw.

“We’re organizing together to save our profession,” said Shaw. “We refuse to stand by and watch our profession decline any further so we’re taking action to use our collective voice to advocate for the changes that our industry needs.”

Union leaders believe that a pharmacy union will result in appropriately staffed pharmacies and, said Shaw, “allow pharmacists to focus on providing excellent care to our patients instead of being bombarded with non-clinical tasks.”

As the clinical role of pharmacists continues to expand, Shaw continued, it is important that pharmacies are staffed appropriately so that pharmacists are allowed to safely practice at the top of their profession.  ■

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