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Walgreens pharmacy employees launch scattered walkout

Reports indicate some stores impacted by start of three-day action to protest working conditions

Walgreens pharmacy workers began a loosely organized walkout on Monday to protest their heavy workloads, but it was unclear how many workers participated and how many stores were impacted.

Some Walgreens pharmacies have closed in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon, and others were operating drive-thru only or closing early due to understaffing, according to reporting from CNN. The cable news network said the walkouts were organized at least in part on Reddit, the online chat forum. Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and support staff from 500 different Walgreens locations in 49 different states had indicated their support or expressed interest in the walkout, which was planned for all or parts of this Monday through Wednesday, CNN reported.

Walgreens Boots Alliance confirmed it was feeling some impact from the walkouts.

“A small number of our pharmacies are experiencing disruptions, and we apologize for any inconvenience,” a spokesperson for the company told Supermarket News. “We are working to return these pharmacies to regular operations as quickly as possible. Nearly all of our 9,000 locations continue to serve our patients and customers.”

The walkouts follow similar actions at CVS, where pharmacy workers left their posts at several stores in the Kansas City, Mo., area last month, citing increased job pressures, in part stemming from additional responsibilities around vaccine administration. Those walkouts prompted CVS to respond with an apology to pharmacy workers and a pledge to consider operational changes.

Meanwhile, in California, a bill was introduced that seeks to address understaffing in retail pharmacies, citing research showing that 91% of California pharmacists said staffing levels were inadequate to provide quality patient care. Research from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy came to similar conclusions earlier this year about certain CVS stores in that state.

Staffing challenges ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers seeking testing, vaccinations, and information about the disease strained retail pharmacies, which have long grappled with a tight labor market for pharmacists.

“We understand the immense pressures felt across the U.S. in retail pharmacy right now,” Walgreens said in a statement provided to Supermarket News. “We are engaged and listening to the concerns raised by some of our team members. We are committed to ensuring that our entire pharmacy team has the support and resources necessary to continue to provide the best care to our patients while taking care of their own wellbeing. We are making significant investments in pharmacist wages and hiring bonuses to attract/retain talent in harder to staff locations.”

The company said that at this time of year in particular, the burden on retail pharmacy workers increases due to high rates of respiratory illnesses and seasonal vaccinations.

“The last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work — while recognizing it has been a very challenging time,” Walgreens said.

A spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents more than 4,400 workers at Walgreens stores in markets around the country, could not be reached for comment on the walkouts.

Last month, workers at three Walgreens stores in Northeast Ohio voted to form their own union, called Pharmacy Workers United, according to a report from Axios Cleveland.

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