Two CVS retail stores in Rhode Island join new national pharmacy union

Pharmacy staff at two CVS retail stores in Rhode Island voted to join a new national pharmacy union on Friday, signaling growing momentum in a movement to help thousands of U.S. pharmacy workers address what they allege are unsafe working conditions. 

Pharmacy workers at locations open 24 hours a day in Wakefield and Westerly won their union elections, making them the first stores to unionize in CVS’ home state, according to a release from the union. It comes a month after a CVS Omnicare pharmacy in Las Vegas — which is not customer facing — became the first location to join the union, known as The Pharmacy Guild. 

The labor group will represent them in negotiations with CVS. 

“These are the first brick-and-mortar classic CVS model” stores to join the union, Shane Jerominski, a community pharmacist and co-founder of The Pharmacy Guild, told CNBC. “This is really where my heart is … we’ve all worked for Walgreens or CVS in the classic retail setting, so we all know the working conditions there.” 

The two locations consist of nine of the company’s roughly 30,000 pharmacists in the U.S., a CVS spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. Some 700 CVS pharmacists are already unionized with other groups, they noted.

The spokesperson said the company respects its employees’ right to unionize or refrain from doing so. They added that the vote is the first of several steps in the collective bargaining process. 

If the National Labor Relations Board confirms the results, “we’ll negotiate in good faith with the union to try to reach an agreement,” the CVS spokesperson added. 

They said the company is committed to ensuring there are “appropriate levels of staffing and resources” at its pharmacies, using “a combination of staffing, labor hours, workflow process, and technology to do so.”

Jerominski and other organizers of a nationwide walkout of pharmacy staff in the fall partnered with IAM Healthcare, a union representing thousands of health-care professionals, to launch The Pharmacy Guild in November. That work stoppage spanned major drugstore chains such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, and drew widespread media attention to workers’ concerns. 

The Pharmacy Guild aims to help pharmacy staff address what many workers call unsafe staffing levels and increasing workloads across the industry that put both employees and patients at risk. The union also calls for legislative and regulatory changes to establish higher standards of practice in pharmacies to protect patients. 

The unionization effort reflects the years of growing discontent among retail pharmacy staff, who say they often grapple with understaffed teams and increasing work expectations imposed by corporate management. Many employees said the Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated those issues, with new duties such as vaccinations and testing stretching pharmacy staff even thinner. 

The Pharmacy Guild is seeing momentum build in other parts of the country, Jerominski said. He added there could be more union filings for stores at companies other than CVS in the next several weeks.

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