Walgreens Pharmacy Worker Speaks On High Demands Of The Job Following Walkout

The walkout is part of a bigger protest happening across the country. Organizers estimate about a dozen stores nationwide have been affected by the walkout.

Wednesday, October 11th 2023, 5:42 pm



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Some pharmacy workers at Walgreens have walked off the job and said they’re tired of being overworked and underpaid.

They say one little mistake when it comes to medications can be dangerous for customers.

News On 6 agreed to talk to this Walgreens pharmacy tech anonymously because she was scared of getting fired.

But she said the demands they’re getting from at work are too much to handle.

The pharmacy technician News On 6 talked to said in her 10-year career, this is the worst working conditions she’s ever seen.

“It’s the workload and patient safety 100 percent," she said.

She said on a typical day, pharmacists fill 100 scripts an hour with one filling technician. And she said since COVID, it seems like more demands are being piled onto workers every day.

“Now they are going to add all the other vaccines to technicians as well," she said.

She said they're expected to give shots every 15 minutes, and sometimes people may get 4 or 5 vaccines at one time, and that's on top of accepting walk-ins.

She said all that workload can lead to dangerous, even deadly, consequences if the wrong prescription gets filled.

"If you get a blood pressure medication and end up getting a blood thinner, it’s scary," she said.

Some pharmacy employees have been walking out of Walgreens, including some in Tulsa, this week, but they were back today.

This follows walkouts forcing several CVS pharmacies to close for the same reasons.

The tech we talked to said customers even get angry and become threatening, and she wants people to know they're doing their best.

“We’re the middleman," she said. "I try to do de-escalation because I know it's frustrating for that patient. They don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes; it’s not us, it’s higher up than us."

Walgreens said it’s listening to concerns from team members and looking to hire more people and increase wages.

The Oklahoma Pharmacists Association said it’s also looking into ways to improve the industry and urges pharmacists to join and make a difference here.

Why are Walgreens Pharmacy employees protesting?

The coordinated action at some Walgreens stores is in response to what pharmacy employees call burdensome prescription and vaccination expectations levied on pharmacists from corporate management, according to an anonymous organizer. As a result, employees often find themselves falling behind and dealing with angry customers.

The company sets performance expectations based on the number of team members each pharmacy should have, said the pharmacy worker. However, in reality, staffing is much lower than that. At the same time, the worker said, they've cut training hours for new technicians.

"We don't believe that Walgreens is allowing us to give our patients safe care on a daily basis," the organizer explained. "Walgreens isn't responding; they're not fixing those things."

A representative from Walgreens said the company has increased training for new pharmacists but has put a pause on what it called "non-critical" training during the busy immunization season.

Walgreens representatives also told CNN there have never been corporate quotas and that all task-based metrics for retail pharmacy staff as part of team members' performance reviews were eliminated last year. The company said it has made $265 million in incremental investments in its nationwide pharmacy team this fiscal year and has created dedicated positions to manage inventory and administrative tasks for pharmacists.

Still, one pharmacy employee who said staff at their store will participate in the walkout on Monday told CNN that they are expected and incentivized to administer more vaccines. "I spend almost all of my day in the shot room, and if I'm not in the shot room, I'm filling prescriptions because we're so behind," they said.

"There have been nights where I've been on the verge of tears because of how hard it is," they said. "I had a patient give me a fist bump and tell me I was doing a good job, and that meant so much to me. The patients are caring more about us than the employer is."

Another pharmacist told CNN that he expects his pharmacy to close during the planned walkout period and that he's heard from Walgreens pharmacists at 13 other stores in his state that are interested in participating.

"We're going to do way more harm to people in 10 more years of operating like this than we would with a three-day walkout," the pharmacist said. "It's time to try something different. Every year, we get the same promises and every year we get the same Band-Aid on the problem."

In a statement to CNN, Walgreens acknowledged that pharmacy employees were overworked.

"The last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work — while recognizing it has been a very challenging time," said Fraser Engerman, a communications director at Walgreens. "We also understand the immense pressures felt across the US in retail pharmacy right now. We are engaged and listening to the concerns raised by some of our team members."

Walgreens is "committed to ensuring that our entire pharmacy team has the support and resources necessary to continue to provide the best care to our patients while taking care of their own well-being," added Engerman. "We are making significant investments in pharmacist wages and hiring bonuses to attract/retain talent in harder-to-staff locations."

Walkouts at CVS

Pharmacy employees of Walgreens and CVS and pharmacist advocates told CNN that their work has always been difficult, but the pandemic made things near impossible. Employees describe severe and chronic understaffing, low pay, high vaccination quotas, long stretches without bathroom breaks, abusive management and violent customers.

Inspired by successful labor strikes across the country this year, they're saying enough is enough and organizing walkouts as part of what some labor advocates are calling "pharmageddon."

In September, CVS pharmacists shuttered as many as 22 pharmacies in two walkouts over two weeks in the Kansas City area in a planned protest, prompting executives from the Rhode Island-based retailer to meet with staff and assure that additional support and higher overtime pay were coming.

"Pharmacists are doing exactly what they've been trained to do, which is evaluate the situation and take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they're providing the best patient care," said Michael Hogue, CEO of the American Pharmacists Association, who traveled to Kansas City to meet with CVS executives and walkout organizers this week. "We have a widespread problem in the US of inadequate staffing in community-based pharmacies."

Prem Shah, CVS's chief pharmacy officer and president of pharmacy and consumer wellness, issued an internal memo, reviewed by CNN, apologizing to his pharmacy teams for failing to address the concerns in the region more quickly.

Another meeting with Shah is planned for late next week, but no time or location has been set, a CVS walkout organizer told CNN.

CVS representatives told CNN that no specific meeting has been arranged because executives don't see this as a "one-time meeting or update," situation. "It's a continuous two-way dialogue to share how we're meeting the commitments we made to our teams and to continue to hear their direct feedback," said Amy Thibault, lead director of external communications for CVS Pharmacy.

"We're committed to providing access to consistent, safe, high-quality health care to the patients and communities we serve and are working with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have," Thibault told CNN in a statement. "We're focused on developing a sustainable, scalable action plan that can be put in place in markets where support may be needed so we can continue delivering the high-quality care our patients depend on."

A lead organizer of the CVS walkouts in Kansas City told CNN that if there is no meeting this week there could be another round of labor action.

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