Striking Pharmacists Put Concern for Patients First

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics April 2024
Volume 168
Issue 03

The action taken by CVS staffers seems to be the only way to get the attention of corporate officials.

I grew up on Theresia Street, on the industrial side of St Marys, Pennsylvania—an area that one might say is on the other side of the tracks. Down the street from our home was Speer Carbon, a massive, sprawling plant that made carbon rods and graphite for the industries. At least 4 other carbon plants were located within a half-mile of our house. Speer Carbon was a “union shop.” About every 3 years, you could figure the workers would go out on strike for better wages and benefits.

Peter A. Kreckel, RPh

Peter A. Kreckel, RPh

My brother, Don, and I welcomed this: We would walk down the street and hang out with the pickets and eat doughnuts with them. Our typical breakfast at home was toasted homemade bread with peanut butter and a cup of hot cocoa. Doughnuts were a real treat. We enjoyed hanging out with Bill, Frank, and Angelo, all of whom had families and lived in our neighborhood.

One year, however, the strike lingered for a few weeks. The union agreed to allow the salary workers in, as they did not belong to the union. It was these workers who kept the plant running and shipped out orders. But the wives of the pickets had had enough.

When the initial morning salaried shift showed up for work, they were met with these wives, all holding baseball bats. Marie and Maggie, our neighbors, stood shoulder to shoulder with their husbands, with their baseball bats in hand. No one was getting into the factory. Traffic on the street was at a standstill, until finally the salaried workers went home. Within a day or so, the strike was settled, and the union employees got what they wanted.

READ MORE: CVS Pharmacists in Rhode Island Petition to Unionize

On September 21 and 22, 2023, pharmacists in at least a dozen CVS pharmacies in the Kansas City, Missouri, area did not show up for work.1 This seems to be the only way that our fellow pharmacists can get the attention of corporate officials: CVS Chief Pharmacy Officer Prem Shah apologized for not addressing concerns sooner in a memo to Kansas City-area staff. He promised to remain in the city until the problems are addressed and to come back monthly to check on progress.2,3

Unlike the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, and unlike the men striking at Speer Carbon, the Kansas City pharmacists did not walk off the job for more money or benefits. They wanted more help in filling prescriptions, administering flu and COVID-19 shots, and counseling patients. These brave pharmacists took a stand on patient care, which continues to suffer amid the current staffing shortage. Pharmacists are not concerned about protecting their wallets; they are concerned about protecting patients’ health and well-being.

Community pharmacists are coming to their senses. Most chain pharmacists receive constant pleas for coverage on weekends; often, these massive chains do not have enough staff to keep the doors open. Near my home in Morgantown, West Virginia, CVS pharmacies frequently close due to staffing levels. Morgantown is the home of West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, a legacy pharmacy school. At one time it was nearly impossible for new graduates to find jobs in Morgantown, or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, or anywhere there was a school of pharmacy. Today, these chains with a pharmacy school down the street cannot interest even new graduates to work under their miserable conditions.

I give credit to those Kansas City pharmacists who have had enough. Take your license off the wall and find a better place to work. It is past time for the big 4 chains to start paying attention, as more community pharmacists find out that they are in fact irreplaceable. If you walk off your job and they cannot find someone to fill in for you, you are irreplaceable.

1. Meara K. CVS pharmacists, staff in Kansas City stage walkout over working conditions. Drug Topics. September 26, 2023. Accessed March 14, 2024.
2. Meara K. CVS implements measures to improve working conditions after more Kansas City pharmacists stage walkouts. Drug Topics. September 29, 2023. Accessed March 14, 2024.
3. Associated Press. CVS responds quickly after pharmacists frustrated with their workload don’t show up. NBC News. September 28, 2023. Accessed March 14, 2024. 
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