Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
In this November 2022 photo, a pedestrian enters a CVS pharmacy in Washington.
Some workers at some of the largest drugstore chains in the U.S. staged a new series of actions across the country on Monday to demand that the companies fix working conditions that make it difficult for workers to safely fill prescriptions. the health of clients at risk.
Walgreens and CVS workers are largely non-union, making large-scale walkouts difficult. Workers and organizers in several states confirmed to CNN that demonstrations have begun and will continue through Nov. 1, but it’s unclear how widespread the action is.
Walgreens and CVS workers previously staged walkouts in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts and Oregon in September and early October. These work actions briefly closed a handful of pharmacies and slowed the business of several others. At the time, Walgreens told CNN the impact was “minimal.”
Shane Jerominski, an independent pharmacist in Southern California who used to work at Walgreens and is one of the organizers of the action, told CNN on Monday that organizers are already overwhelmed by calls about closing pharmacies.
During previous appearances, pharmacy workers feared retaliation from their bosses and corporate management, Jerominski said. However, according to him, there was no repression from the management, which encouraged more staff to participate. However, some workers who may still be worried about the company’s crackdown are calling in sick instead of walking out, he said.
Jerominski confirmed to CNN that at least 25 stores have closed. He expects momentum to pick up over the next three days, culminating in a planned demonstration Wednesday outside Walgreens headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield.
Jerominski also said a GoFundMe page, originally started to help unionization efforts among pharmacy workers, has raised more than $60,000 and is being used as an emergency fund for workers who need financial help to walk off the job and participate in the strike. .
He union representatives say they help plan specially scheduled departures to start the day before Halloween, because this a particularly busy time for drugstore chains as cold and flu season begins and demand for vaccines increases.
A spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told CNN on Sunday that it supports the organizers who are planning the walkout and protests. The Service Employees International Union-United Health Workers West also said it supported the actions and protests.
“UFCW members and employees are reaching out to many CVS and Walgreens employees who are taking action to defend their rights on the job. We’re the largest Retail Pharmacy Union in North America, so we’re here to help where workers are struggling,” UFCW International vice president and organizing director Dave Young told CNN.
“Health care workers and consumers are experiencing unprecedented stress due to understaffing by health care corporations,” UHW-West Health spokeswoman Renée Saldana told CNN last week. “We support all healthcare workers who are taking a stand to improve organizing and staffing.”
The American Pharmacists Association, an advocacy group for pharmacy workers across the country, said in a statement Monday that it “stands with every pharmacist taking part in the action today.”
APhA CEO Michael Hogue recently traveled to Kansas City to meet with CVS pharmacy staff and executives.
“For too long, employers have made things worse than they need to be. Non-pharmacist supervisors do not understand the needs of care teams and place unreasonable demands on time-based productivity,” he wrote Monday.
“Quotas on the number of prescriptions filled per hour or the number of vaccinations administered per day, or even the time to answer the phone, simply fail to understand that the pharmacist-patient relationship is not a transaction. It’s a special commitment—and controllers who distill everything down to numbers and time metrics destroy those relationships in the name of profitability. This should be stopped immediately.”
Walgreens and CVS representatives told CNN on Monday that they haven’t seen much a disruption of operations. “We are committed to providing the patients and communities we serve with access to consistent, safe, high-quality healthcare, and we have an ongoing two-way dialogue with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have,” said Amy Thibault, spokeswoman for CVS Pharmacy.
A registered pharmacist in Michigan told CNN he resigned Monday as part of a planned industrial action. She said she worked as a pharmacist for 35 years, but decided to leave Walgreens after seven years due to a series of workplace issues, including denial of sick leave, severe understaffing and lack of lunch breaks, even while working 14-hour days alone.
CNN has independently verified his hiring and resignation letter.
A Walgreens spokesperson told CNN that they recognize “the incredible work our pharmacists do every day, especially at this time of year when the demand for their services increases in the community.”
“Our leaders regularly visit our pharmacies, listen to concerns and frustrations, and respond to feedback. We have taken steps over the past two years to improve the experience of pharmacists, develop their profession and ensure they deliver the high-value care they are trained for. All of our nearly 25,000 pharmacists are continuing to serve their customers and communities this week, and we thank them for that,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, organizers have called on pharmacy workers and pharmacy safety advocates to join the protests.
Loretta Boesing, a patient advocate and founder of Unite for Safer Medicines, told CNN that she plans to attend Wednesday’s protest at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters. She said her son is a liver transplant patient and has to take medication every 12 hours.
“I never thought I would have to be an advocate to make sure he could get his medication safely,” Boesing said. “I see pharmacies closing and pharmacy deserts increasing, and it’s sad and horrible to see pharmacies in this state. I want to ensure pharmacies are safe and thank all pharmacists who use their voices to help patients.”
Although technicians perform many tasks around the pharmacy, they cannot provide medication advice, and many pharmacies only have one registered pharmacist per shift. Pharmacies may close suddenly when the pharmacist is unable to work.
Boesing said she, too, reached out and urged other patients to support Wednesday’s demonstration. “Pharmacists working in understaffed pharmacies face a lot of verbal abuse. Many patients take out their frustrations on pharmacists, so it would be great to get more voice support from patients.”