Why non-union pharmacists are protesting

A tectonic shift in mindsets is inciting non-union pharmacists and other healthcare workers to protest, The New York Times reported Dec. 4. 

In October and November, dozens of CVS and Walgreens workers hosted a series of walkouts and labor actions to raise awareness of severe understaffing and unmeetable demands. The walkouts were coordinated online and sparse — retail chains reported minimal disruptions and closures. The organizers are now working toward unionization, a labor action that historically wasn't even considered as healthcare workers felt public praise for their work, the Times reported. 

Pharmacists and other healthcare workers used to feel immune to the management-labor hierarchy, but in recent years, there has been a growing tension between employees and their bosses, and the norm is fraying as more consolidation fuels bigger bureaucracies. 

Increasingly, healthcare employees are feeling like cogs in the wheel and clock-punchers amid a growing sense of class consciousness, or a disconnect between their wants and their employers' interests. 

Ed Smith, PharmD, has been a pharmacist at CVS since the late 1990s. In the beginning of his career, it felt like a "workplace democracy," stores were well staffed and pharmacists had time to develop relationships with patients, he told the Times

In 2004, he became a district manager and oversaw about 20 stores in the Boston area. By 2015, Dr. Smith stepped down and became a pharmacist again because he felt uncomfortable supervising co-workers in conditions he called inadequate.

"I couldn't ask my pharmacists to do what I couldn't accomplish," Dr. Smith told the Times. He helped organize the labor effort in Kansas City, Mo., when 10 locations momentarily closed after  two dozen workers called in sick to protest working conditions.

The importance of strict performance metrics surpassed satisfaction and overall profits, several retail chain pharmacists told the Times. CVS said it is listening to its employees and is investing in its workforce, and Walgreens said in late 2022 it was removing task-based metrics. 

Doctors Council, the country's oldest and largest union of attending physicians, is now fielding calls from pharmacists for the first time since its inception in the 1970s.

"Two days ago, pharmacists called me from Florida," Frances Quee, MD, president of the union, told the Times. "We've never done pharmacists before."

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