This may surprise none of you who know me, but people have from time to time accused me of being a pessimist. A glass-half-empty, woe-to-the-world, Gloomy Gus kinda guy. I never understood it though. I mean, I just call the glass as I see it, and I've never hesitated to tell a happy story when I come across one. Like this month, for instance, I'm going to use this space to tell you a true tale about some Walgreens employees who stood up for themselves and managed to wring a package of concessions from the nation's largest drug chain. Prepare to be pleased.
According to a press release that found its way to my e-mail box a few weeks ago, this group of Walgreens employees said "attempts to address their grievances directly with management through established channels were rebuffed and the employees felt strongly that seeking representation ... was the best course of action to ensure safe working conditions."
Management deaf to your grievances? Sound familiar? Organizing to ensure safe working conditions? Sound like a dream of yours? Well then read on.
The employees sought union representation in February 2011. And as soon as your eyes hit the words "union representation," I know a lot of you stopped reading. I've heard it all before. Unions are not for professionals. Certainly not for those who hold doctorates in one of the healthcare sciences. They are a relic of a past age suited at most for the hourly wage slave.
I'll ask this question, though, of my friends working for Walgreens, and I'll open it up to the other two major pharmacy chains, and the rest of my colleagues behind the retail prescription counter as well:
As you stand in front of your computer screen at work, watching your clocks and graphs turn from green to red, seeing the unfilled prescriptions line up beside you, hearing the three phone lines ringing, and feeling your empty stomach and full bladder, do you feel more like a professional or a pieceworker? By the way, your district manager just called. He said if your metrics don't improve, there will be serious consequences.
While you ponder that, I'll tell you that after 9 months of hard work, those masters and doctorate degree-holding healthcare professionals got themselves a contract that not only addressed their concerns; after three years, it will have them making 11.2% more, to boot.
I'll also tell you that those professionals aren't pharmacists. They're nurse practitioners who work at the company's Take Care clinics in Illinois.
That sound you just heard was that of a profession that barely existed a generation ago taking steps toward passing yours by. As pessimistic as I've been accused of being, I'd say their glass is at least three-quarters full. I'll bet those nurse practitioners go to the bathroom whenever they want. I'll also wager their lunch consists of more than a Snickers bar and a half-empty cup of cold coffee gulped down between patients.
So you can keep on telling me about how unions just aren't right for pharmacy while simultaneously whining about everything that is wrong with your work day. You can keep right on with the same tired arguments year after year that something has to change, while year after year things get a little worse. Go right on hoping for change while dissing the most obvious vehicle that will bring about change.
Or maybe you could reach out to the Illinois Nurses Association, the California Nurses Association, the National Union of Health Care Workers, or any other outpost of organized labor, and ask them if they have any interest in reaching across state and professional lines.
And you can keep asking them until they say yes. I've been a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers for 6 years now, and I did a good deal of work on this article during my lunch break. My regularly scheduled lunch break.