CVS Claims Years of Overworking and Undervaluing Pharmacists is Justifiable Because ‘There Hasn’t Been a Mass Exodus’ of Workers

| February 5, 2020

Teamsters Local 727 and representatives of retail pharmacy giant CVS (NYSE: CVS) returned to the bargaining table on Thursday, January 30, marking the first time in over a year that the parties met to continue negotiating a successor collective bargaining agreement for CVS pharmacists.  The meeting was scheduled as a result of the Union’s recent win at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of Appeals regarding numerous unfair labor practice charges filed by Local 727 over CVS’s bad faith negotiating tactics.

Throughout negotiations, Local 727 filed, and pursued through the appeals process, numerous unfair labor practice charges against CVS over the company’s repeated violations of federal labor laws.  Late last year, the NLRB Office of Appeals agreed with the Union and announced that it had found that CVS had engaged in overall bad faith bargaining.  As a result of the Union’s persistence, CVS was informed by the NLRB that it either had to agree to bargain in good faith and alter its behavior both at and away from the bargaining table or face a formal complaint and hearing.  With compliance looming with the NLRB, CVS representatives opened Thursday’s negotiations by finally presenting the Union bargaining committee with a modified contract proposal.

During the bargaining session, CVS withdrew a proposal that proposed replacing union pharmacists with non-union Pharmacy Managers.  Local 727 Secretary-Treasurer John Coli, Jr. credited the Union’s persistence for eliciting such movement.

“For years, CVS repeatedly delayed negotiations and refused to bargain in good faith with our Union. Movement on a proposal like this is a tremendous victory for our bargaining committee,” said Coli.

Local 727’s work is not over yet, however, as CVS resubmitted its proposal to allow Pharmacy Manager to have the unrestricted right to perform bargaining unit work, which the Union made clear was something it felt ran contrary to the company’s good faith bargaining obligations.

CVS representatives also presented Local 727 with a modified rest break proposal that incorporates some of the workplace standards stipulated by new amendments to the Illinois Pharmacy Practice Act (PPA), which were passed into law in December.  Like the company’s return to the bargaining table, these amendments were also a result of the Union’s unwavering efforts at the Illinois Pharmaceutical Task Force to protect pharmacists and improve working conditions in Chicagoland pharmacies.

As a recent New York Times article illustrated, unnecessary administrative tasks in retail pharmacies have made it increasingly difficult for pharmacists to safely fill prescriptions and counsel patients.  Retail pharmacists across the nation have been forced to take on a multitude of new responsibilities—responsibilities that distract from the safe practice of pharmacy—and work longer hours with few or no breaks in order to keep their jobs.

Though many fear long workdays and such a boom in responsibilities will endanger the public, a fear of retaliation has prevented many pharmacists from coming forward and reporting these dangerous work conditions.

To make matters worse, the New York Times reports that the specifics of pharmacy-related errors are difficult to uncover as a result of “lax reporting requirements,” companies’ unwillingness to release information on prescription misfills, and because victims or their families are frequently required to sign confidentiality agreements when settling lawsuits with companies.

For years, Local 727 has pressed companies and legislators alike to take action and address the dangers posed by overworking pharmacists and understaffing pharmacies.  Thanks to the Union’s persistent efforts, the Illinois Pharmaceutical Task Force was created in 2017 and assigned the tasks of evaluating the PPA and suggesting improvements to the legislation.

As a result of Local 727’s input at each meeting, nearly all of the initiatives the Union pressed for, including the banning of productivity or production quotas that have been widely reported to pressure pharmacists to work at an unsafe pace, were ultimately recommended by the Task Force and incorporated into the PPA.  Though the amended PPA represents a step forward, Local 727 believes more work must be done, including mandating a shorter workday for retail pharmacists.

As the New York Times reports, ineffective state legislation has made it difficult to regulate massive chain pharmacies like CVS.  To improve Illinois’ ability to oversee pharmacies in the state and hold companies accountable for unsafe conditions, Local 727 has encouraged the Pharmaceutical Task Force to recommend strict liability penalties be incorporated into the PPA.  The Task Force, which has been extended, is expected to reconvene to consider such suggestions in the coming months.

While Local 727 was pleased to see CVS had integrated some of the recent PPA changes into its contract proposals, the Union bargaining committee was disappointed to hear that the company was unprepared to make any changes to its wage proposal.  Rather, CVS representatives returned to the bargaining table with the same proposal it presented in 2016—a three-year wage freeze from 2016-2019, less than two percent annual wage raises going forward, and drastically lower new hire wage rates that will not catch up to the full wage rate—which would result in CVS pharmacists being paid far below the company’s other union competitors in the Chicagoland retail pharmacy market.

Though CVS representatives agreed with the Union bargaining committee that pharmacists are the face of the company and the main driving factor behind CVS’s success, company representatives insisted that CVS felt that these low wage proposals were fair.  CVS even went so far as to say that the company felt that the wages it was offering were the current fair value of pharmacists at-large.  CVS representatives claimed that there was no reason for the company to alter its proposal when “there hasn’t been a mass exodus of pharmacists because of the wage scale.”

In an effort to investigate these claims of fairness by the company, the Union logically requested that CVS provide the wage information for non-union pharmacists employed by CVS, which CVS, unsurprisingly, refused to provide.

“It seems that CVS is baiting employees to quit rather than fairly compensating these hardworking professionals who serve a vital role in keeping patients safe,” said Coli.  “CVS seems to think that pharmacy graduates are interchangeable and is refusing to acknowledge the contributions of its existing employees.”

As one South Carolina pharmacist told the New York Times, many pharmacists know that the amount of work being placed on their shoulders is dangerous but, if they don’t do the work they fear their employer will simply replace them with another pharmacist and “likely try to pay them less for the same work.”

After persistence from the Union, CVS finally admitted that working in a retail pharmacy is harder than other settings.  Nevertheless, the company continued to nonsensically base its wage offer upon alleged wage data in non-retail settings during bargaining.

“Our members experience the same fear highlighted by the New York Times, so they go to work and break their backs for CVS.  Now, CVS wants to thank pharmacists for their hard work by giving existing employees a three-year wage freeze, increases of less than two percent thereafter, and cutting wage rates for new hires.  CVS should be embarrassed by its actions in light of the working conditions pharmacists endure,” added Coli.  “Many of our members have spent decades working for CVS.  Apparently, those years of hard work and dedication, years of building relationships and becoming valued members of the community, don’t mean anything to CVS.”

Despite a recent press release from CVS that claims the company “values” and “encourages” feedback from its employees, the Union’s letters to CVS executives, sent in June 2018 and October 2018, were essentially ignored by CVS.  To date, the Company has offered no remedies for the feedback presented on behalf of its Chicago pharmacists by the Union.

Local 727 and CVS are currently scheduled to resume negotiations on Wednesday, March 11 and Thursday, March 12.

Teamsters Local 727 represents nearly 10,000 hardworking men and women throughout the Chicago area.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

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CONTACT: Melissa Senatore, (847) 696-7500



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