Pharmacists and unionization: It’s later than you think

February 3, 2016

Pharmacists need to unionize. You've heard all the reasons. Here's another one -- and it's time-sensitive.

Eddie MoralesThere has been talk of unionization for years now among pharmacists, but so far, it has been only that - talk. What makes the union talk going on now any different? Why is it now more important than ever to seek out a union? Why should we even bother to join a union?

For one thing, the pharmacy industry is getting larger, and therefore, more out of our control. As chains strive to merge or to be the largest or to become No. 1, they have turned the "profession" of pharmacy into the "job" of pharmacy, and we are letting it happen.

Key Performance Metrics drive expansion

It is easy to see that an oligarchy can be just as dangerous as a monopoly. Key Performance Metrics (KPM) constitute the driving force behind this phenomenon, because they tell corporate headquarters exactly what it needs to know in order to expand the chain.

See also: Key performance metrics and age discrimination in pharmacy

Corporations need brutal numbers, to which they can peg the minimum number of technician hours, less pharmacist overlap, increased workload, and increased managerial tasks, and they need to accomplish these goals by forcing pharmacists to work as many extra hours without compensation as possible.

Does being the No. 1 chain really call for mistreating pharmacists? Does being the No. 1 chain justify the disrespect pharmacists are getting across this country? I once overheard one pharmacy supervisor tell another, “I expect my pharmacy managers to put in 50 to 60 hours a week.”

The game-changer: Social media

In the past, such disrespect and abuse have gone unnoticed (or been ignored) by politicians, pharmacy boards, and the public. In the past, one of pharmacists’ major problems has been lack of public awareness of working conditions in the pharmacy. Until relatively recently, social media were not available to get the word out.

See also: Pharmacists' futures and the math behind unionization

Now pharmacists have a fighting chance. FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, YouTube, and phone cameras now make it easy to report what is going on in chain-store pharmacies.

The public has been unaware of what is happening to pharmacists. Through public media, we can make it known, and politicians and boards of pharmacy will have no choice but to take notice. A news item can be posted on public media faster than conventional television or newspaper outlets can report it, and practically everyone now has a phone with which to record what is happening.

The ostrich phenomenon

The pharmacist is like an ostrich, with its head buried in a hole in the sand, and the managers are the ones digging the holes when and where they see fit.

Pharmacists are a busy lot. They seldom have time to do the research or get the information they need to better their circumstances from within the corporate structure. Managers are trained to keep pharmacists busy with other matters and do so with impunity, up to and including threatening pharmacists’ livelihoods.

I believe that pharmacists are finally starting to get their heads out of the managerial abyss. Pharmacists are realizing that they are in serious trouble and they are looking for the facts. They can no longer afford to keep their heads buried in the sand.

 

Simple logic

If you are going to work in such a hostile environment, why not be compensated for it? Start with time-and-a-half for any hours worked over 40 hours. Claim mandatory scheduled lunch breaks and pay increases based on contract. Go off salaried status and assume hourly paid status.

 These things would allow for a limit on the number of prescriptions a pharmacist can safely fill during an eight-hour work shift (set by the BOP) and would allow pharmacists to choose the length of a shift they would like to work.

Coming soon to your local pharmacy

Here are some of the things I - and other pharmacy watchers - have been warning about for years.

1. Pharmacy schools will graduate record numbers of pharmacists starting 2016.

2. Salary entry caps could be set at $40.00 or less for newly hired pharmacists.

3. If they want to be hired in retail, future pharmacists will be required to make business courses part of their PharmD degrees.

4. Pharmacists will continue to be randomly fired "at will" to make room for younger pharmacists. (I once heard one district manager tell another, “I don’t want any pharmacist over 28 working for me.”)

5. Tech-Check-Tech will replace the checking pharmacist.

6. Eventually self-checking software may replace the need for many technicians, sending the prescription directly to print-ready and directly to automated filling robots, with something like a highly advanced Script Pro in every pharmacy.

7. Once e-prescribing reaches 100% in all states, self-checking software will eliminate the need for the pharmacist to check the prescription.

8. For the first time in the history of pharmacy, pharmacists may not be able to find jobs or will be terminated in droves.

Saw it coming

I predicted these things years ago, and no one listened. I have also pointed out that provider status may be no better for you than "at will" status; that pharmacists will be offered less money, and they’ll have to take it in order to remain employed; and that older pharmacists will be first fired and then told that they can reapply - for less money and fewer benefits - but with no guarantee that a position will be available. Sound familiar?
 

An inarguable need

Every piece of information I have gathered about the chain pharmacy industry has convinced me that pharmacists need to unionize.

Joining a union will give you seniority, so that when it is time to downsize - and it will happen, sooner or later - corporations will have to use the "last hired, first fired" criterion for terminating pharmacists.

This will give you considerable stability in the workplace and will restore to pharmacists the status they once had. Pharmacists want respect. The chains are not giving it.

 

Pharmacists are ready

My last article has convinced me many pharmacists are ready to unionize, as I have found out through the emails I have received so far. I have heard from pharmacists in 27 states, all telling me how much they believe in the necessity for unions.

Times are changing. Our survival may rest upon our joining an organization, such as the IAMAW Union, which has connections in all 50 states. If you do not want to find yourself on the outside looking in, contact Tony Walter at tonyw743@sbcglobal.net, or go to the www.cvsworker.com website and send him a message.

A word to the wise

If you think times are bad now, worse times may be creeping up on you.

If corporations have their way, that PharmD degree will one day require you to have a minor in business administration, which one chain is testing now through a pharmacy school in Pennsylvania.

Once that degree makes all pharmacists managers, pharmacists will be exempt from joining a union. And you know what that means.

Pharmacist Eddie Moralesis leading the charge to unionize in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. For more information, go towww.cvsworker.com. Contact Eddie atedmrph@hotmail.comfor information on unionization initiatives and activities in other states.