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    Pharmacists of America: Which side are you on?

    Eddie MoralesEddie MoralesWe all know the issues encountered by pharmacists working in chain pharmacies. Twelve-hour workdays or longer, no meal or bathroom breaks, no opportunity to sit during work hours, insufficient tech staffing; ever-increasing demands to meet metrics at the expense of patient safety — this is just the tip of the iceberg; the list goes on and on. For some graphic examples of pharmacists’ working condition, go to www.cvsworker.com. (This is a pharmacists’ site and is not owned by or affiliated with CVS).

    Who do you trust?

    Decades have passed without remedy. To obtain any relief from intractable working conditions, pharmacists will have to join together. This means unionization.

    The problem is, the deck is stacked against the pharmacist the moment the word “union” comes up. The danger of punitive retaliation and possible job loss is real. Not knowing whether they can trust the people around them, and with mortgages, families, and futures on the line, pharmacists don’t even say the word “union” out loud, much less do anything about the problems we all face.

    If you can’t trust the pharmacy supervisor, the district manager, the regional manager, HR, the ethics line, or your corporation’s open-door policy, where do you go to air your complaints?

    The logical route is to go to your state National Labor Relations Board, and that’s what I did, only to find out eventually that although a corporation may use immoral, unethical, and unfair methods to keep pharmacists in check or to terminate them, such actions are not necessarily illegal. If you are an “at will” employee, as I am, you can be hired or fired as the corporation sees fit.

    Management by intimidation

    What bothers me most is the way some managers go about firing pharmacists. Key Performance Metrics, which help the corporation, are a double-edged blade, often used to discipline pharmacists for not meeting the often-unattainable scores demanded by management.

    Corporations frequently employ management by intimidation. And in getting rid of pharmacists, they may see no obligation to abide by the “last hired, first fired” rule.

    I got a hint of this from someone posting at www.cvsworker.com, who wrote the following: “...last in, first out creates the possibility that deadwood will never get out and professional, capable pharmacists will be the first out.”

    I’d like to know the criteria corporations are using to establish that a pharmacist is unprofessional, incapable, and deadwood.

    Eddie Morales, RPh
    Pharmacist Eddie Morales is leading the charge to unionize in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. For more information, go to ...


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    • Anonymous
      And now it is confirmed CVS is the worst retail pharmacy to work for- http://finance.yahoo.com/news/worst-companies-130656663.html therein lies the problem, they keep expanding and less competition to work for, therefore the pharmacist need to act and give this bad company the spanking it deserves
    • Anonymous
      If every pharmacist were part of a national union, now that would be something. The chains would cringe and they should for the way they have treated our profession. If there has been any reduction in the pharmacists “most trusted” it would be due to the metrics that CVS pushes. Pharmacist have a right to form a union, they should and take our profession back from these greedy (fill in the blank)s
    • Anonymous
      Part of the problem goes to the "WalMarting" of the nation.. Everyone wants to be the "cheapest" on everything (including RX)... Impossible of course, but... - part of this makes no sense, since for many places the "3rd party" sets the price... and of course they want to set it LOW.. Chains agree to the low, to get the business... Basically the only way to get low prices, is to get low costs - help & rent being the Staffing - running at the bare mimimun is the fastest/easy way to cut costs. So thats what life is.. + and note to pick on Walmart - some of their pharmacies (and staff are excellent = but being the biggest.. blame them
    • Anonymous
      I think it is known that CVS is the worst of the worst, quite pathetic. Nothing but abuse to our profession and should be kicked off the planet. JMO
    • Anonymous
      I can’t disagree with the author or the folks commenting for or against unions in this article. Truly it’s a case of "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" I’m not afraid of unions, but I am afraid of my employer. I am certain they would fire me for even talking about unions, and this tells me that they are very afraid to lose the upper hand they have in abusing their employees. If you think pharmacy is going to get better even if we work even harder as recognized provider status pharmacists, and deliver ever increasing levels of patient care, until one day employers say, “Wow, good job guys, you finally deserve that extra (appropriate) staffing and humane working conditions you thought were normal for trained medical professionals”, you are dreaming. The excuse of declining reimbursements from PBMs rings hollow when compared to the billions that the big players continue to make in record setting profits, but they do not kick down even a little bit despite this success. They could easily afford more staffing to generate the “World Class Customer Service” and increased sales by pharmacists they so rabidly foam at the mouth for. Employers can improve working conditions any time they want – but they don’t want to. Employers can stop the ever increasing staff cuts and understaffing, the enigmatic, the intimidation and unobtainable metrics they use to discipline and terminate us, the hard core high pressure sales “low hanging fruit” immunization quotas we are assigned… any time they want – but they don’t want to. Why? Greed. Greed. And More Greed. I could tolerate and even excel at these so called “productivity goals” if only I had the appropriate STAFFING. Proper staffing alone could mollify most of these high pressure and ruthless management tactics. However, as long as I have to work ALONE 55% of the time as the lone community/retail pharmacist on duty, working 13+ hour shifts, while being required to: ring up groceries, fill out mountains of audit prevention and Medicare compliance documentation, give out a fried chicken or $75 worth of gift cards for dispensing $19.95 worth of new or transferred prescriptions, do (without any appointment) throat swabs, immunizations, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and MTM etc, complete hours of company required (not voluntary) “payroll neutral” trainings on my day off,… pharmacists in retail pharmacy are going to continue to circle the drain and never rise to the full potential as the expert providers of health care that so many think we are certain to be just by being more clinically oriented. In pharmacy we are fast approaching the reason that unions were formed by workers in specialized labor groups in the 1800’s. A good union is nothing more than an organization of workers who have come together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, improving safety standards, increasing the number of employees an employer assigns to complete the work, and better working conditions. This may also include the negotiation of wages, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, and benefits. Don’t be afraid of unions. When I was a Union carpenter being a member gave us strength and security. It was forbidden for a worker and his expertise to be, under recognized or taken advantage of by being forced to work in, or contribute to, unsafe conditions or to work without extra compensation for performing extra work, or by having OUR work delegated to non members. In my union experience no employer was ever able to injure my physical and mental health, livelihood, job security, dignity or self respect in pursuit of their own greed. In my union experience the only thing I regret is that 23 years ago, when I thought I was taking a step up in the world, I walked away from: respect, vesting, seniority, pension contributions, a carpentry job I loved, the union protections of an all for one and one for all brotherhood. I’d be retired with a pension by now if I had stayed in the carpenters union. Instead, I liquidated all that and invested it in a pharmacy education and career that has left me, in the last 10 years of my career – correction – job, not career, feeling nothing but expendable, intimidated, under recognized, unappreciated, a growing general disinterest in pharmacy, painfully long, hours on my feet, diminishing benefits, screaming customers, screaming managers, threats of termination in every corporate communication or mandate, etc. Basically, injustice and disrespect on top of a student loan balance that can not even be discharged through bankruptcy. The corporations had their chance to make things right. Like the author asks, which do you think is worse, a rotten corporation or a rotten union? I know.
    • Anonymous
      Instead of generic union membership (union membership for me was worthless) how about a national pharmacists' guild? With the threat of nationwide walkouts even the most clueless politician or corporate wonk would have to pay attention.
    • Anonymous
      We need real change, parity in laws across the country, tech ratio, overtime, meal periods etc etc. All pharmacists including managers should by law be allowed to join a National Union-- one union of pharmacists only--- And then real change will happen
    • Anonymous
      In my experience, unions only make things worse! I agree totally with the descriptions of ever-worsening working conditions. My chain, in the past two years, has gone to a "real-time labor model", in which we have to fill a certain number of prescriptions to get a certain amount of technician and clerk help. And, as you can guess, the model does NOT provide enough help for the given number of prescriptions filled. Why do I say unions only make things worse? 1. I was in a pharmacist union as a state of Oregon employee for seven years, and I had the lowest pharmacist hourly wage in the whole state!--and, yes,I mean out of every pharmacist in every setting in the state of Oregon, I had the LOWEST salary! There were only about five pharmacists in that union, so the union rep did nothing to increase my wage over that seven years. I even went on strike with state-employed nurses to help them get a better wage, and came out of it with NO CHANGE whatsoever in my own wage. 2. When I was young, in the 1960's, grocery checkers made a good living. I remember my friend's mother did very well working full time in that job. Now, even though grocery checkers are unionized, they start at minimum wage! In fact, all the union jobs at the grocery chain where I work make minimum wage starting out, and very slowly work up from there. Plus they pay anywhere from $30 to $50 per month in union dues. I don't see the unions as having much power any more, so why are they the solution? I rest my case.
    • Anonymous
      I agree, in your experience unions did not work. 5 pharmacist would not be too effective in bringing any change. Remember the members are the union and you must "act" as a whole to bring about any change. A pharmacist union should be comprised of pharmacist only and run by pharmacist, that is how change can happen. The snake's head needs to be cut off.
    • RobertDeBus
      As 4 year BS RPh ( now retired) I remember the student discussions about forming a union - thus this is not a new issue. I have both hospital and retail experience, and for the most part, in my case I saw no need for a union. However, the way things have gone the past 20 years I definately can see the need for some sort of union in many cases. State associations and Boards have always been made up more of employers than otherwise. This is even more so with the death of the smaller RPh owned/operated independent (this is what my generation was trained for). The big major chains seem to be more of a problem than the smaller outfits or independents. Hospitals are a world apart. And, why anyone would want to get a Pharm D; then work for any of the major chains is beyond me - you would have to really want the direct patient contact which seems to be going away at any large chain. Good Luck! I am have happy to be retired.
    • Arniezimmer
      We live in an environment of employment at will. Whether that is fair or unfair is a moot point. I recently attended a seminar sponsored by the DEA. One of the speakers was a former head of the NABP and the Ohio Board of pharmacy. He clearly stated that the only options in a dispute between a staff pharmacist and his employer are to save your job or save your license. He did not mention any options about the board intervening and filing an opinion against the employer which at a minimum would help the pharmacist be eligible for unemployment insurance. This is no surprise since the boards of pharmacy and state and national associations are dominated by members representing the ownership and managerial interests in our profession. Do you think they want a complaint filed against themselves? Dues paid to state associations are used to hire lobbyists who represent the ownership interests. If any board employs an attorney who will give a friendly opinion for a staff pharmacist against a hospital, chain, or independent, please let me know. I want to give a hypothetical example. A floater pharmacist ascertains that one pharmacy in particular has an inordinate number of serious errors which have resulted in morbidity, if not mortality. If the pharmacist informs the Board, will the Board or state association help him keep his job if he is fired or at least draft a strong opinion in support of his action if a law suit if filed? Remember, the Board's first responsibility is to protect the public.
    • Dr. MToole
      Pharmacy 'unions' were decimated in California. Shot down by groups like save-on (now defunct), kaiser, CPhA (at that time an owners only group), and BoP, and SEIU. In SF all pharmacists were in the SEIU. The pharmacists that joined the 'union' were all fired and the courts in California did no support individual pharmacists only the big groups, they had the money to sway the legislature and courts
    • FrankBergson
      In considering scheduling of hours, do not discard flexibility. Yes 12 hours is long, but is doable if breaks and mealtimes are included. If a pharmacist has a long commute to work, perhaps 20-30 miles, perhaps more than an hour each way, a 5 day work week is both expensive and tiring. Longer shifts permit a 3 day work week, which was always my preference.But this is only practical if the day includes several breaks and sit-down time for meals.