Pharmacists' futures and the math behind unionization

October 29, 2015

Tired of all those 12-hour days? If nothing else, a union will get you paid.

Eddie MoralesAll across America pharmacists are continuing to discuss the possibility of unionization. This discussion is spurred on, in part, by the fact that staff pharmacists of the small Shaws-OSCO Pharmacy chain in Massachusetts recently unionized, and pharmacists in a Target store in Brooklyn, N.Y. have done the same. They had enough of dangerous and unhealthy working conditions, and the Key Performance Metrics they have put up with over too many years. This union talk may have already started a domino effect.

See also: Pharmacists of America: Which side are you on?

Which pharmacy will be next? After all, CVS alone has unionized pharmacies in many states. Why not have the rest of the CVS pharmacy chain unionize? Why not Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and other chains? Word is spreading, and now it makes mathematical sense. So, let us look at the numbers.

The equation

The first thing pharmacists should realize is that if they are going to continue to work under miserable conditions, they should be paid for doing so and receive other benefits as well. We have come to a point where we must look at both sides of the equation.

Under a union contract, the most obvious benefits are the following:

1. Time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours worked.

2. A legally scheduled lunch break away from the workstation.

3. Sick days you may be able to use even if you are not sick.

4. Pay for duties performed on your own time, outside your regularly scheduled hours (e.g., flu clinics).

5. Contractual annual pay increases not based on a manager’s whim.

The above items are self-explanatory. Now, calculate the difference between your current situation and a unionized one, and the dollars you are losing add up. Chances are you are already putting in the hours anyway, without compensation, in order to accomplish everything expected of you in the brief span time required.

Working a couple of extra hours to help is okay, but what if the extra hours you work each week become standard procedure? If you are working 10 hours over a 40-hour base pay each week without compensation, aren’t you getting paid 80% of what you should be getting paid? If the workload is going to be the same before and after joining a union, which one equals the better deal?

A little simple arithmetic shows that the pharmacist is always on the losing end, especially when having to give up 10 hours of family or personal time. At least a union gets you properly paid.

 

Danger to the “at will” pharmacists

A newly licensed pharmacist starts his career with roughly $150,000 of debt in student loans. With so many pharmacy schools graduating a record number of pharmacists, job openings may dry up.

See also: Too many pharmacy schools? One dean says no

This could make the newly licensed pharmacist an easily manipulated asset to the corporation. For pharmacists with a student-loan noose hanging overhead, fear of losing employment once they are hired will keep the corporation’s assets in check. Corporations know this, and it poses serious questions, especially if the job market in their area dries up.

What if newly licensed pharmacists are willing to accept a lower hourly pay rate in order to obtain the position? What happens to the pharmacists hired under “termination at will” agreements who are already working? What happens to a pharmacist who has been with the corporation for 10 years? What happens to the older pharmacists? In time, the newly licensed pharmacists will find themselves in the same “at will” dilemma when even newer pharmacists join the ranks.

It is legal (just ask any NLRB representative) for a corporation to eliminate “at will” pharmacists, especially if it increases profit or reduces expenditure. This is a danger to the “at will” pharmacist that certainly favors the corporations. Here is where a union is most valuable.

 “At will” status vs. seniority

When it comes to the pharmacy profession, the “at will” status of the pharmacist is an archaic label. Pharmacists everywhere should petition for the elimination of this status. A legal method to do so must be found.

Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen anytime soon. Legal avenues are tedious and have rarely worked in the past. They may not work in the future. Even obtaining provider status may not get you out of this one.

There is currently only one sure and immediate way of eliminating the “at will” status, and that is through unionization. This will at least provide you reasonable job security, enabling you to obtain seniority based on the length of time you have worked for the company.

With a union behind you, termination is often accomplished under the “last hired, first fired” method. The longer you stay with a company, the more you build seniority, and unless you falter gravely in your actions or performance at work, you will not be unfairly terminated based on the whim of the pharmacy supervisor or district manager, who may have their own agendas.

If you have to speak to management in regard to any issues, you can have a union representative present to make sure things are straight and accurate. Currently, any manager with whom you speak can alter the content of such a conversation, because without any witnesses and/or documentation, anything you say can be considered hearsay.

Stockholders love what managers are doing because it gets them paid, and in all likelihood, Corporate and HR will favor the manager. And if you think the NLRB is going to help, think again.

 

Lack of NLRB support

If you’ve been reading Drug Topics or have seen the essay Decline and Disenchantment: Reflections on the Aging of the National Labor Relations Board, by Wilma B. Liebman, published in the Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law (Vol. 28, Issue 2, 2007), you will know that the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935 (the Wagner Act), “hasn’t been updated since 1947.”

Although decisions made in executive suites of the chain pharmacy industry over the past 20 years have caused the number of prescription errors occurring each year in this country to rise to intolerable numbers, complaining to the NLRB is of no use to the pharmacy profession. I know; I’ve tried. Others have tried, with equal lack of success, and the plight of the pharmacist continues. The NLRB may be suited for settling disputes between baseball players and owners, but it has little to no influence when it comes to helping the pharmacist.

The numerous boards of pharmacy have done equally little for pharmacists.

With no obvious help or relief in sight, it is up to the pharmacists to rally together to bring about change in our profession.

It’s all in the numbers.

Strength in numbers

An individual pharmacist trying alone will have a tough time bringing about change in our profession, but collectively, pharmacists can become a force to be reckoned with. Just look at what the pharmacists in the Shaws-OSCO Pharmacy stores in Maine and the Target pharmacy in Brooklyn have accomplished.

It took cooperation among pharmacists to bring about change in their working circumstances. They chose to come together in order to better our profession. They did it, and so can the rest of us.

Decision time

Do we want to continue the way we’re headed now? If so, just keep doing nothing.

Do you want to make things better for our profession? Then start by calling for a national coalition of pharmacists in the retail-chain industry. Let’s start by getting unionized, all across America, and let’s go public. The math is in our favor.

Eddie Morales is leading the charge to unionize in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. For more information, go to www.cvsworker.com. Contact Eddie at edmrph@hotmail.com for information on unionization initiatives and activities in other states.