Q&A: CVS Pharmacy Technician on Rhode Island Unionization Efforts

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Chris DesRochers, a pharmacy technician who works at a CVS in Wakefield, Rhode Island and is active in the recent organizing, discusses what motivated him and his coworkers to unionize.

In April, pharmacists at CVS stores in Wakefield and Westerly, Rhode Island submitted petitions to the National Labor Relations Board to unionize with the Pharmacy Guild, the only national union that organizes and represents pharmacy professionals. The organizers said the decision to unionize was in response to poor working conditions and understaffing, which were having a negative impact on patient outcomes.1

Q&A: CVS Pharmacy Technician on Rhode Island Unionization Efforts / Sundry Photography - stock.adobe.com

Q&A: CVS Pharmacy Technician on Rhode Island Unionization Efforts / Sundry Photography - stock.adobe.com

“My coworkers and I are unionizing with The Pharmacy Guild so we can have a voice to advocate for the best care outcomes possible for our patients,” one pharmacist active in the CVS Rhode Island union effort said in a release at the time it was announced.1 “By unionizing stores in Rhode Island, we’re sending a direct message to CVS and the industry at large that frontline pharmacy professionals will continue taking direct action to reform our industry for the protection of our patients.”

Roughly a month later, pharmacy technicians and interns working at the Wakefield CVS store also filed to unionize with the Pharmacy Guild.2 Drug Topics spoke with Chris DesRochers, a pharmacy technician who works at the CVS Wakefield location and is active in the recent organizing, about what motivated him and his coworkers to unionize, some of the challenges they faced that led to the decision, and what he hopes to achieve through unionizing.

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Drug Topics: What motivated you to take the step towards unionizing with the Pharmacy Guild?

Chris DesRochers: Once we saw the pharmacists say, “We're going to do it,” it was just a matter of talking to the other techs and wanting to follow in their footsteps. The pharmacists at our store kicked down the door for us and we just were able to walk through it, if you will.

Drug Topics: Can you describe some of the key challenges you and your colleagues face that led to the decision to unionize?

DesRochers: I think it's the quality of patient care. We want to maintain what our patients are used to and we weren't seeing that as much with what was going on recently. The quality of patient care was going down a little bit. That was one of our motivating factors.

Another motivating factor was, it's like any other job in today's society, it's not something specific towards CVS, but just [that] there's a very high turnover rate. The industry itself is kind of stressful, it's a medical industry, but you're also customer service, you're customer facing. You're dealing with a lot of customers that are coming out of hospital and people are emotionally very vulnerable and they don't always treat you the best. Better staffing would help us keep our workloads down and, ideally, the flow would be better and everything would work out.

Drug Topics: What specific changes or improvements are you hoping to achieve through unionizing?

DesRochers: Like I mentioned before, better patient care. We [would like] better insurance. The insurance they supply us is good, but ideally it would be an even better plan. Getting everyone a cost of living adjustment. Our wages haven't gone up and the cost of living has gone up exponentially.

I can't get too much into the weeds on this [because] I don't know how it works completely behind the scenes. We have a lot of techs who have been with the company for a very long time and have not gotten a raise. The best example I can give is, I know someone from Costco and they've been working with them since they were 16. They get $32 an hour doing the register because they've been there for so long. That is not how it goes at CVS…We have some techs that have been with the company for so long and they deserve to be paid accordingly.

And then ideally, we could have more of a say in what CVS is doing. We want a seat at the table. It does have an effect on us, and it has an effect on the patients. We'd like to have more of a say and I think a union is the best way to go about that.

Drug Topics: What advice would you give to other pharmacists or pharmacy technicians at different CVS locations or different companies who are considering unionizing?

DesRochers: I think the most important thing is to get all the facts first, because there's a lot of facts that aren't true out there. As long as you're unionizing in the proper way, you're protected. I think everyone deserves better working conditions. I think everyone that wants to get to work in better working conditions should reach out to us…Reach out to the Pharmacy Guild. I went right on [the Pharmacy Guild’s] website, typed in my information, and then they contacted me. If people are really motivated to get this done…reach out to the Pharmacy Guild or reach out to me, reach out to someone, we can make it happen. It's a good thing. Everyone benefits from better working conditions.

Drug Topics: Is there anything else you wanted to say on the topic of unionization?

DesRochers: The one thing I'll say about unionization is that people definitely should not be scared of it. You are protected. The second you talk to someone from the [Pharmacy] Guild, you are protected. Just reach out. I can't say that enough, people just need to reach out. Because it's as simple as that. There was no magic that [we] needed to do this. It was me reaching out, and then [the Pharmacy Guild] giving us the tools that we needed.

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References
1. Fight to unionize pharmacies reaches CVS’s national headquarters, as pharmacy professionals at CVS stores file to unionize in Rhode Island. News Release. Pharmacy Guild. April 25, 2024. Accessed May 30, 2024. https://pharmacyguild.org/updates/fight-to-unionize-pharmacies-reaches-cvss-national-headquarters-as-pharmacy-professionals-at-cvs-stores-file-to-unionize-in-rhode-island/
2. Two new groups of pharmacy workers file to unionize with The Pharmacy Guild in CVS’ homestate of Rhode Island. News Release. Pharmacy Guild. May 22, 2024. Accessed May 30, 2024. https://pharmacyguild.org/updates/two-new-groups-of-pharmacy-workers-file-to-unionize-with-the-pharmacy-guild-in-cvs-homestate-of-rhode-island/
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